Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Niagara Symphony serves up some tasty Hot Cross Buns last weekend

As noted in my last blog entry on the weekend, the Niagara Symphony's second Masters concert was held Sunday afternoon at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University, with John Morris Russell conducting the orchestra in a concert titled, I mentioned on the weekend rather unfortunately, Hot Cross Buns - English Style! Not that I have anything against the music on the programme or its connection to hot cross buns, which I happen to love, incidentally. I just thought it was a rather unwieldy title.

That being said, the orchestra was in fine form for this concert, with Russell wringing every ounce of music out of the players. And I must say, they didn't seem to mind the exercise one little bit. I also mentioned on the weekend it would be interesting to see how Russell handled the smaller-sounding works on the programme; whether he would be able to 'finesse' the music. I am happy to report that he did, in fact, show a fair amount of finesse in regards to the music, even if his broad conducting strokes produced a little more volume than necessary at times.

The William Boyce and Johann Christian Bach works were taught and crisply played; the Vaughan Williams Oboe concerto lovingly handled and beautifully played by soloist Christie Goodwin; and the Haydn London Symphony was an exhuberant depiction of life in London in Haydn's time. Even the ubiquitous Carrabre piece, Chase the Sun, conducted by all four candidates this season, seemed more tolerable this time out.

Now, the case can be made, perhaps, John Morris Russell is a bit too 'showy' in his conducting style for the orchestra. Certainly, his Beethoven 5th Symphony at the end of last season was a no-holds barred affair that even had the audience working up a sweat along with him and the orchestra. But perhaps, too, that is not a bad thing right now. For me, it all comes down to what you achieve with the orchestra, and the sound I heard from the orchestra again with Russell on the podium indicates he and the musicians get along together, and they respond to his style of conducting. They were on their collective game this past weekend, and the results were obvious: they were prepared, and they came to play. What more can you ask of an orchestra and their conductor?

To be sure, we have a long road ahead of us with this season's conductor search with the Niagara Symphony. In January we finally get to meet and hear what the fourth candidate, Diane Wittry, can bring to the podium, for example. Plus, the upcoming Pops! concert in December, always a crowd pleaser, promises to be very interesting this year with Timothy Hankewich on the podium again. His first Masters outing this season was very impressive indeed. But at this stage of the competition, I would have to say John Morris Russell is the man to beat; or, put another way, the job is his to lose. We'll see how things unfold...

The Sunday afternoon Pops! concert December 12th is sold out, incidentally; the Saturday evening, December 11th is filling up fast, but there are still good seats available, so to plant yours in one of theirs, call the Brock box office soon at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

December 2nd, 2009.

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