Review: Fantastic Performance by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra


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CPO’s latest Classic Masterworks concert series have been exceptionally good, measured by any standard. And the Friday night program, featuring Berlioz’s iconic Symphonie Fantastique, continued the race.


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Guest conductor Justin Brown, an English-born conductor now working in Germany, was on hand to conduct the orchestra. Now early in his career, Brown has an enviable track record, and why it should be so was more than evident in his driving of this very difficult program.

If one asked: how was his conducting of the Symphony? One would have to say – well, fantastic. There are many challenges for anyone conducting this piece: the tempos must be flexible, while having a certain backbone; the rhythm is complex; and the orchestration, almost brilliantly brilliant, demands a great deal of care in terms of balance and refinement.

Brown lived up to all of these things and more, his expressive, yet clear direction, guiding the orchestra towards one of its finest accomplishments of the season. Brown presented a very clear conception of the work, which ranged from the inner complexity of the opening movement to the momentum of the famous waltz movement (played to death on the CBC) and, more impressively, the movement. slow with pastoral accents and hellish finish.


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As wonderful and impressive as the finale was, with some excellent witchy caquets from Jocelyn Colquhoun’s E-flat clarinet and tight brass licks, it was the slow movement that was most impressive on this occasion, the variety infinity of orchestral colors of resplendent iridescent Berlioz. And for those who love the sound of the orchestra, a great noise maker, there have been moments of testosterone-laden orchestral blasts in the face, especially in the fourth and final movement.

At all times, the CPO gave their best voluntarily, the orchestra responding to the conductor, the playing clean even in the most difficult passages, and the whole with remarkable precision. It was a time to savor a great orchestral game.


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If the playing was less demonstrative in the Mozart Sinfonia concertante, it was nonetheless refined and polished. On hand to perform the solo element were cellist Diana Cohen and principal viola Laurent Grillet-Kim, both of whom performed remarkably well. I’ve never heard Grillet-kim solo before, and it was indeed a stellar turn, with his beautifully clear sound and excellent formed music. Cohen was impressive too, perhaps a little more than on previous occasions, especially in the projection of rich, well-focused sound. Musically, she and her partner clearly shared similar ideas about how music should play out, all taken out of the top drawer as a performance.

The orchestral part was performed in a subtle way and did not overwhelm. Once again, Brown was at the center of the proceedings, shaping the music with a sure and understanding hand.

The program began with Edmonton composer Vivian Fung’s Aqua, a recent piece by one of Canada’s best-known young composers. It is a “sound” piece, inasmuch as the thematic material is actually a kind of composite texture more than the development of themes in the conventional sense of the term. Dense and provocative, the soundscape presented was interesting and unusual, and the piece did not exceed its welcome.


Classical CPO Masterpieces: Fantastic Symphony

Diana Cohen, violin,

Laurent Grillet-Kim, viola

Justin Brown, conductor

Jack Singer Concert Hall



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