Oceanside Classical Concerts’ fifth season opened at Knox in Parksville on Saturday, October 27. The full house witnessed an evening of inspiration and challenge.
The John Avison Orchestra, conducted by Peter Dala and comprised of 12 players including the Borealis String Quartet and pianists Elizabeth Bergmann and Marcel Bergmann, kicked off the program with Franz Schubert’s Scherzo from Octet in F major, followed by Claude Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune. The latter, carefully selected for this program, coated the room with light, dance and daydreams.
The second half of the show was devoted entirely to Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), featuring Susan Platts, mezzo soprano, and Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, and the return of the John Avison Orchestra. This half presented the challenge. A stalwart attitude likely was helpful for many folks. Anyone familiar with Mahler would have confided prior to the show that Mahler is heavy stuff. And anyone not familiar with Mahler prior to attending this performance could now support that opinion. Some may not have found it to be their ‘cup of tea’ but the likelihood is that everyone in the house appreciated the difficulties in the work, the intricacies dealt with by Mahler, and the skills required (and brilliantly displayed) by the chamber-sized orchestra (this work usually requires a full orchestra) and the two soloists. There should be little doubt that stellar playing and singing were evident on the Knox stage.
Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is long: six movements, most of which belong to the mezzo soprano. Some might ask ‘Why not shorten it? Why not perform just two or three movements?’ The answer is easy. Mahler composed the work in order to express a thread of important, related messages and emotions following a painful period in his life. He released his pain through his composition of settings for ancient Chinese poetry translated into German. The chosen verses provided Mahler the basis for a new beginning while he was trying to deal with grief. Cutting any movements would have been disrespectful to Mahler, as well as to the instrumentalists and the soloists, but also to each person in the audience.
Oceanside Classical Concerts has promised, and continues to promise, to provide nothing short of excellence for all concert-goers. This program presented a challenge, yes, but it was an inspirational challenge wrapped completely with excellence – an OCC promise kept.
Review by Mary Leigh Warden