PEI Symphony Orchestra
Review by Anne Bergstrom
Fall Fanfares, The PEI Symphony’s first concert of the season, began with a brass fanfare by 16th century Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli. Two groups of brass players faced each other on opposite sides of the hall, playing antiphonally, answering and echoing each other. Conductor James Mark explained that Gabrieli was the organist and composer for Venice’s Basilica San Marco, and the church features large upper balconies where the brass choirs would play.
The three movements or canzoni played by the brass featured a good blend between the two choirs. There was a satisfying balance, even though we were sitting closer to one group, because the closer instruments were aimed away from us.
Edvard Grieg’s Suite “From Holberg’s Time” for strings has five movements using several 17th century dance forms. The opening Praeludium had a lively rhythm alternating with a more pleading one. The Sarabande, slower and melancholy, was highlighted by a lyrical cello trio.
The Gavotte was gentle, lilting and cheerful. The Air had a poignant melody in the violins, repeated in the cellos. The lower strings, at full strength, provided a good anchor for the string orchestra throughout. The final Rigaudon opened with a bouncy, dance-like violin solo, followed by solo viola.
Canadian composer Kelly Marie Murphy wrote Utterances in 1999 on commission for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It is filled with contrasts in colour, mood and texture. It began with exciting rhythmic energy, drama from snare drums and accented chords from the orchestra. An intriguing combination was wood block with muted trumpet.
The central slower section had a brief oboe solo, then an atmospheric violin solo with sliding notes, played with confidence by concertmaster David Adams. A short, slow clarinet solo and a cluster-like chord led back into a fast section, like the beginning with drums and a building, driving rhythm. The piece drew to a quiet close with high violin dissonances.
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 5 in F gave the woodwinds a chance to shine. It opened with a gentle theme in flutes and clarinets, followed by an energetic and bouncy second theme. These two themes were tossed around in the rather long first movement, which could have used a pick-me up before finally giving way to the Andante.
This began with the cello section presenting the melody. The first four notes are reminiscent of the descending motif of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which, interestingly, was written the same year as this symphony, 1875. It makes the listener wonder if one of them heard the other’s piece and was inspired to use the same musical fragment. The Scherzo was bouncy but not very fast, with excellent clarinet solos from principal Karem Simon and give-and-take with principal flutist Kay Diviney.
The Finale: Allegro molto started menacingly, again with the cellos, supported by the basses. The mood was immediately different from the other movements. A mellow bass clarinet solo was followed by a gradual buildup to an exciting finish, an extended romantic ending with brass flourishes and a timpani roll.