Concert Reviews

Tübingen, 28 April 2019

Print Version, Schwäbisches Tagblatt, May 2, 2019: PDF (in German)

Beethoven’s Driving Force

The Canadian Hart House Orchestra was a guest at the University of Tübingen’s Festsaal.

The 45-member orchestra of the University of Toronto is currently on tour in Germany under its conductor Henry Janzen. Their opening concert took place on Sunday in Tübingen at the invitation of University Music Director Philipp Amelung, who welcomed the 200 attendees in the University’s Festsaal and was inquisitive about the interpretation. For two of the works in the program – Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony – were also performed and conducted by Amelung in January 2016 with the Akademisches Orchester.

The name Hart House Orchestra refers to a leisure and cultural centre in the campus of the University of Toronto: the rehearsal and performance venue of the ensemble. A multi-generation orchestra of students, professors and university staff, with some quite young musicians among them.

The first half of the concert had three smaller works. When Garmisch was occupied by American soldiers in May 1945, Richard Strauss, over 80 years old, came from his villa with a white flag saying, “Do not shoot – I’m the composer of the Rosenkavalier!”

One of the soldiers, Strauss fan and oboist John de Lancie, was the impetus to the creation of the oboe concerto, a late work with amiable mischief and a tidy and smoothly polished sonority.  The beginning was quite forceful and exuberant, then yielding, and only coming to rest in the Andante.  Soloist Bhavani Kotha impressed us with her broad melodic arches, lively playfulness and fine humour.  A nostalgic farewell mood in the orchestra, a long delayed sunset. Kotha’s encore was “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Morricone.

“Evolution” by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum, who was born in 1945, introduced a theme in variations through the musical epochs from the Renaissance to the present, though quite abstractly with technical means such as a short fugue for the Baroque period or a “mini sonata allegro” for the Classical.  It would have been more easily conveyed by characterizing the epochs with more coloristic quotations.

Ethereally transparent, beautiful sounds lit up in Maurice Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin” (“Monument to Couperin”), a neo-Baroque suite and tribute to the court composer at Versailles. Kotha’s oboe solos were also the highlight here. The harp did not go on tour, so Marion Wilk played the part with sampled harp sounds on a keyboard. Especially thrilling, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was conducted by Janzen with rhythmically taut tempi. The Allegretto had a hypnotic pull – alternating between processional dance and funeral march – with approaching crescendi and rearing culminations, finally extinguished with a last flicker.

There was exciting contrast in tempo in the Scherzo between fleeing passages and an unbridled Presto. In Janzen’s interpretation, the rhythm once again proved to be the driving force in Beethoven’s music, holding the entire work under suspense into the final bars.

(Translated by Tom Lee)

Göttingen, 4 May 2019

Kulturbüro Göttingen, May 5, 2019: Online review (in German)

A Moving Performance

“Hart House Orchestra” is the name of the orchestra of the University of Toronto (Canada). With about 40 members, the orchestra went on a tour of Germany. After stops in Tübingen and Düsseldorf, the journey ended on Saturday in Göttingen. The hosts were choir and orchestra of the University of Göttingen. But before personal contacts could be established and a return visit was planned, the guest orchestra performed in the aula of the university.

The program included the oboe concerto by Richard Strauss, the “Le Tombeau de Couperin” suite by Maurice Ravel, the piece “Evolution” by the US-American composer Elizabeth Raum and the Symphony No. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

As a soloist, the Hart House Orchestra and its conductor Henry Janzen had invited the young oboist Bhavani Kotha for this trip. That turned out to be a true stroke of luck. One would think that it takes a great life experience to understand this demanding late work by Richard Strauss and to make the many echoes of his oeuvre audible. Kotha demonstrated great understanding and empathy for the work. Paired with her musicality and her great technical abilities, she created a touching performance in which Henry Janzen gave the artist many freedoms to design.

The composer Elizabeth Raum (born 1945) is also an oboist. In her composition “Evolution” she traverses the history of music from the Renaissance to the present in seven variations. The result is a pleasing and entertaining work with a beautiful violin cadenza, performed by the concertmaster of the orchestra.

The orchestra really got going in Ravel’s suite “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in the orchestral version created by the composer himself. Here, especially the woodwinds showed their skills. Janzen took the music sporty, light and fresh. There was nothing funereal about this music or its interpretation, in spite of the title (as “tombeau” means “funerary monument”). On the other hand, the pleasure and the fun that the musicians had in playing this work came clearly through.

After the break, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony was on the program. One may assume that the couple of slips of focus were the first signs of fatigue at the end of this tour and this two-hour concert evening. However Henry Janzen rallied the orchestra, and drove it triumphantly to the grand finale of the symphony the 4th movement “Allegro con brio”.

Long-lasting applause of the concert visitors was the reward for this commitment. As thanks, the last movement of the Ravel Suite was added.

(Translated by Joseph Nachman)

February 15, 2017

Whole Note Feature “Canada to Carnegie: Hart House Orchestra’s Anniversary Tour”