Alix Goolden Performance Hall
May 26, 2012
Patience, they say, is a virtue. Which must have made George Lloyd one of the most virtuous composers of all time.
Although his career as a symphonist might have seemed to be well on its way in 1933, when he conducted the first performance of his third symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, no less, after that things went downhill, as his predominantly tonal style went further and further out of fashion. His fourth symphony, composed in 1945, had to wait for its first performance until 1981, by which time a Lloyd "revival" was under way in Britain.
Given that - and there is more - Lloyd would probably not be particularly surprised at the fact that his first symphony should have waited eighty years for its first Canadian performance.
He might not even have been surprised that it was given by a non-professional orchestra, as the premieres of his first two symphonies were given by "municipal" orchestras in England.
What I suspect might have taken him somewhat aback, as I confess it did me, was the sheer quality and confidence - and even coherence - of the performance which Michael Keddy summoned up from the Civic Orchestra of Victoria on Saturday afternoon.
It is not as if the music itself were easy, for the single movement work is brimming over with invention (had Lloyd been older than his nineteen years at the time, I suspect he would have realised he had enough material for his next five or six symphonies) and the - deftly handled - shifts in tempo are numerous.
The orchestra played extremely well, from the slightly Elgarian opening to the gentle final coda, via the tumultuous body of the work; string tone was firm and full-blooded, the winds chattered away merrily and the brass only drew attention to themselves when it was warranted. Only in the fugal section was there any hint of scrappy ensemble, but it was the only tiny blemish on a performance of which Keddy and his players should be very proud.
My only previous encounter with the music of Lloyd - a broadcast of one of his later symphonies (he wrote twelve) around thirty years ago - did not inspire me to investigate any further.
This one did.
Although, for me at any rate, the Lloyd was the main event in Saturday's programme, the rest was nothing to be sneezed at.
How many people can, for example, say that they have ever heard a performance of Wagner's Polonia overture? Admittedly one hearing is probably sufficient for anybody and I doubt if anyone hearing it as their first exposure to his music would predict a great future for the young man.
"Bombastic" is the word which best sums up the music - although not the performance - and if he really did compose it after a night on the town with some Polish friends, perhaps he should have taken the time to sober up first.
Keddy and the Civic made the most of this piece of youthful excess, but their fine sound and excellent ensemble, particular at the close, could not disguise the fact that it is far too long for its material (in sharp contradistinction to the Lloyd) and that to call the percussion writing clumsy would be a kindness.
The contrast between the Wagner and what followed could hardly have been greater: Brandon Chow's Starfield is scored for clarinet, piano, violin and cello and was performed by Marcus Durrant, Romaine Gehring, Raya Fridman and Nathan Jacklin. Despite the size of the ensemble, it was conducted.
The music itself, apparently inspired by gazing at the stars and subsequent reflection on our place in the universe, is slow, sparse and suitably contemplative. It was also exquisitely played. Perhaps it was a tad too long, but it held the attention - was it five or ten minutes long? I felt no need to consult my watch - and showed that Chow will bear watching in the future.
Mozart's Symphony No.29 is generally acknowledged to be his first great symphony. I strongly suspect that had the remainder of the programme not consisted entirely of unfamiliar music, more rehearsal time would have made for a more accurate performance.
The spirit was undoubtedly willing and I genuinely liked Keddy's interpretation, but string intonation was weaker here than at any other time in the afternoon, with the result that I found the whole slightly disappointing. The Civic have only themselves to blame of course, as their standards have risen so much during the time I've been attending their concerts.
Full marks to the horns, though, for their interjections in the scherzo.
As the only composer actually present on the day - Chow was on vacation in Europe, Wagner, Mozart, Lloyd and Ginastera are, of course, no longer with us - Andrew Ardizzoia spoke to the audience before the concert about his work *Some Assembly Required, which was receiving its Canadian premiere (and only its second performance).
He need not have bothered: his music is quite able to speak for itself and while it may have been interesting to hear about how it was constructed, the exuberant, rhythmic and, frequently, very loud piece had no need for analysis.
Part of the enjoyment, I admit (slightly shamefacedly) was watching the three percussion athletically navigate their way between the many different instruments, having to deal with both a set of steps and a protruding pillar on the way. Somehow, they coped.
Throughout this fascinating work, Keddy and his players never once lost sight of the pulse; and I don't believe I've ever heard such aggressive writing for the glockenspiel. Great fun.
For their finale, Keddy and the orchestra gave us a scintillating and colourful account of the last movement of Ginastera's Estancia, with its brilliant and exciting malambo cross-rhythms.
An immensely satisfying and rewarding concert, it is commendable that the Civic should continue to be so adventurous in their programming - and deeply gratifying that they should be able to pull it off so successfully.