Tasmin Little comes across as a tad too self-effacing for Korngold's showy violin concerto
At the Orpheum on Saturday, November 15. Continues at the Orpheum at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 16, and at the Bell Performing Arts Centre on Monday, November 17.
For the soloist, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major is like a slow pitch through the centre of the strike zone; if you can’t hit it out of the park, you might want to consider another game. And to continue the baseball metaphor—don’t worry, we’ll drop it in a second—British violinist Tasmin Little scored a respectable triple with the VSO, but failed to bring home the run.
Call it an error.
Korngold, as VSO music director Bramwell Tovey noted in his introduction, is best known for his Hollywood film scores, and the Violin Concerto in D Major quotes from three of them: Another Dawn and Juarez, Anthony Adverse, and The Prince and the Pauper. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this; auto-cannibalism is almost as common as respectful plagiarism in the world of orchestral composition. But the work has met a mixed response, even from before day one. In order for it to be premiered by Jascha Heifetz, with the St. Louis Symphony in 1947, Korngold was requited to rewrite the third movement to highlight the violinist’s technical gifts. The result, then, is both showy and old-fashioned, although an old-fashioned showman could probably still command an audience’s attention by focusing on the composer’s singing melodic lines and amping up their Middle European melancholy.
Little isn’t that person, though. She’s too self-effacing and her sound is too small for the role. It’s hard to fault her musicianship, but the question remains: why choose this score?
Repertoire was not an issue in the concert’s second half, for which the VSO doubled in size by incorporating its youth affiliate, the aptly named Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra. Aaron Copland’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes and George Gershwin’s An American in Paris are ideally suited to this kind of marriage of pros and hopefuls. Their moments of swaggering exuberance must have gone a long way to calm the nerves of the younger participants, who were, if not faultless, certainly impressive. Several members of the VSO’s current corps graduated from the VYSO, and the farm team is certain to provide many more.
If the prancing jigs and hornpipes of Rodeo’s “Hoe-Down” finale weren’t quite as crisp as they could have been, it's worth noting that the VSO, this time without its young accomplices, will revisit Copland’s ballet score on December 4, with associate conductor Gordon Gerrard on the podium. Playing the same work in two separate concert programs within such a short span of time is another odd programming choice, but probably a happier one.