This evening’s program consisted of José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B Flat K.595 (with Marc-André Hamelin tickling the ivories), and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. On this occasion, the band wasn’t led by its regular conductor, Bramwell Tovey (who has announced he’ll be leaving the orchestra in a couple of years). The guest conductor was 30-year-old Diego Matheuz, from Venezuela, making his VSO debut.
However, what I didn’t hear was an especially subtle or well blended tone-palette. Does the VSO reserve refined playing for more refined repertoire?
On the podium, Matheuz showed strong, dynamic leadership. Admirably, he committed this sprawling score to memory, and this enabled him to communicate directly and immediately with the orchestra. The young Venezuelan maestro paced the music and his musicians well, allowing the piece to ebb and flow, and also pressing forward to build exciting climaxes.
Hamelin is one of the more interesting pianists on the circuit these days. There was a time when his repertoire of choice was big-fisted post-Romantic stuff – but in recent years, he as taken an interest in the discreet charms of the Classical period. In this Mozart concerto, he demonstrated that “less is more,” often favouring a restrained, understated elegance, with pristine tone. This approach was contrasted with more expressive passages, made lush with generous use of the sustaining pedal. The result could be described as a “historically suggested” interpretation – with Hamelin freely deciding just when and where he was prepared to take history’s suggestions. (And I mean that in a good way.)
As for the opening Huapango, it was a lively Mexican fiesta of colour and rhythm. But it was apparent that the VSO was playing music it didn’t know very well – and at times this led to a lack of foreground-background clarity.
With Tovey on his way out as music director, it’s possible that Matheuz saw his appearance with the VSO as a kind of audition for the position. If he wants the job, he has made a good first impression with the Symphonie fantastique.
© Colin Eatock 2014