Violinist Corey Cerovsek gets graceful with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
A Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presentation. At the Orpheum on Sunday, January 8. Continues January 9
The jury still seems to be out on Erich Korngold, who was at one time a nine-year-old Moravian prodigy who astonished Gustav Mahler, as well as Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss. His music was phenomenal—for a while.
Nazi developments in Europe closed the curtain on him to a great extent, but finally so did the United States, where he fled, fatally choosing a career as a film composer for such swashbucklers as Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood. They won him Oscars but little respect among serious music critics, such as Irving Kolodin, who wrote him off as “more corn than gold”.
Korngold’s lone Violin Concerto is a kind of beacon with, at least, a beautiful slow movement, and this was the work that led to the Kolodin quote above. It had and has its adherents, and in recent times the piece has been taken up by many violinists of the younger generation—one of them the Vancouver-raised violinist Corey Cerovsek, who played it on the weekend at the Orpheum with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and he played it with a Felix Mendelssohnian grace. I think anybody who came with a prejudice against Korngold left with another idea.
The concerto is said to have its problems, but they weren’t apparent in a performance that was so beautiful it was hard to believe this was Korngold. It made every other rendition I’ve heard sound coarse.
And a big bravo goes to the young Bulgarian-born conductor Rossen Milanov, who was on top of the music every inch of the way and a man of infinite grace. What he did with Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun was incredible in terms of seduction and absolute tonal precision, which included some very fine suspensions. It was all atmosphere.
The VSO concert’s big statement was Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, a one-hour extravaganza of big-scale tone-colour effects and sometimes hilarious narrative, as when the real-life figure of the actress Harriet Smithson, with whom Berlioz was wildly in love (from a distance), turns into a subject of scorn—a bleating, waddling harpy. Berlioz could be such a bitch!
This prefigured the ugliness of fact. Years later, Berlioz met Smithson and then married her. He discovered she was a hopeless alcoholic.