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COC Concert Showcases Orchestra

By Joseph So / February 18, 2001

Canadian Opera Company Orchestra
Richard Bradshaw, dir.
February 17, 2001

Last evening, the Canadian Opera Company played the first of a three-concert mini-series at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts (formerly the Ford Centre).

It is great to hear the COC orchestra away from the acoustic wasteland that is the Hummingbird Centre. With the George Weston Recital Hall, the contrast could not have been more dramatic. Even more than the acoustically friendly Glenn Gould Studio, this venue allows one to hear just how good the COC orchestra can be when given a chance. The program is a real departure from the regular diet of operatic music with three classical pieces of Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven, performed to varying results.

The opening work, Mozart’s concerto for oboe and orchestra in C major, K. 314 showcased Mark Rogers, principal oboist. Perhaps not used to being elevated from the pit and into the spotlight, Mr. Rogers looked particularly tense and ill at ease, almost petrified. Perhaps he was thrown off by the applause at the end of the first movement, showing that this opera audience is not used to attending symphonic concerts! Fortunately, it did not translate into his playing, which was assured and ingratiating. To be honest, one can hardly call the COCO a Mozart orchestra. The opening bars were very tentative and singularly lacking crispness of attack, but conductor Richard Bradshaw quickly pull the forces together and offered an honourable if not brilliant playing of the concerto.

Schubert’s Third Symphony went better, with more incisiveness and immediacy. The same can be said for the Overture to The Consecration of the House, Op. 124. Not one of Beethoven’s finest achievements, this late period work harkens back to an earlier, more formal classical period and is curiously lacking the personal stamp of the composer, and represented a curious choice to end the concert. For this audience of vocal music, the evening’s highlight was undoubtedly the four songs sung by COC ensemble members Krisztina Szabo, Shannon Mercer, and Andrew Tees. Szabo’s high mezzo sounded terrific in Strauss’ Zueignung. Baritone Andrew Tees’ singing of Um Mitternacht was particularly impressive in the fortissimo climax, while the earlier section, in which he had to scale down his voice, had a rather tremulous quality. Assigned the most ethereal of Strauss’ lieder, Morgen, soprano Shannon Mercer sang with lovely, girlish tone but still has some ways to go in her interpretation.

This series continues with Vocal Discoveries on March 11, featuring the Ensemble in selections from Berlioz and Mussorgsky, plus orchestral pieces by Milhaud, Mahler, and Britten; and concludes with an opera evening featuring two of the young stars, Isabel Bayrakdarian and James Westman, on April 27. All concerts are at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts.

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