WFP Barnes review

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Engaging performance by cellist Ariel Barnes leaves MCO fans wanting more

by Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press

One of the hallmarks of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra has always been its savvy programming that balances well-loved chestnuts with modernistic fare. It also knows how to present newer artists that its loyal audiences regularly fall in love with.

The concert showcasing guest cellist Ariel Barnes Tuesday night again proved the point.

Hailed for his luscious tone and technical prowess, the rising star has served as principal cellist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (Bramwell Tovey, conductor) since January 2013. He’s also been recently selected by the CBC as one of six Canadian cellists for its celebrated Canadian Bach Cello Suite Project.

The program led by Anne Manson opened with an excerpt from Ernest Bloch’s three-part From Jewish Life (1924). Barnes immediately infused its first movement Prayer with soulful longing — albeit somewhat restrained — that at first seemed a plea not born of passion, but world-weary resignation. However a great artist is one that paces with an eye on the whole, so that his final declamatory bursts gained greater strength by contrast.

Barnes also treated us to a classical confection: Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major, H.VIIB:2 that brims with sunny spirits as much as technically treacherous passagework.

After a leisurely introduction in Allegro moderato by the now expanded orchestra, the cellist once again leapt in with ease, navigating its series of double stops underscored by lyrical phrasing.

A warmly engaging performer — just what MCO audiences love — Barnes often beamed at the other musicians, communicating infectious joy to all those around him. A highlight proved to be his cadenza that scaled the heights before plummeting back to tonal depths.

The Adagio allowed greater opportunity to hear his honeyed tone emanating from his 1730 Newland Johannes Franciscus Celoniatus cello from Turin, Italy, on loan to him for three years courtesy of the 2012 Canada Council Instrument Bank Competition.

Then it became time for the rollicking Rondo that steadily grows in complexity. Barnes showed us his dramatic side as the folksy theme temporarily veered into minor key territory, before finally returning to its buoyant self including lightning speed figuration.

Despite the audience’s rousing standing ovation, Barnes, somewhat unusually, did not grace us with an encore — with Bach being an obvious choice. Hopefully this dynamic performer will return — and soon.

The concert also included the world premiere of an MCO-commissioned string orchestra version of Leos Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata.’ Arranged by Michael Oesterle, there is a second like work by the same composer on tap for the June concert. Manson introduced the piece with palpable pleasure that showed her own deep commitment to the inordinately difficult work.

The volatile piece, by turns quirky and pensive, unfolds with as much emotional intensity as a Tolstoy psychodrama. Concertmaster Karl Stobbe attacked each of his solo sections with verve, contrasted with his more plaintive elegiac theme heard during the final movement. His string compatriots added their own rasping tremolos, pizzicato effects and constantly shifting tempi and tone.

Pierre Mercure’s Divertissement (1957) rounded out the program, last performed on this stage in 1988. The late Montreal-born composer juxtaposes a string quartet against the larger backdrop of the orchestra not unlike a concerto grosso, with the smaller concertino group comprised of: Stobbe; Barbara Gilroy (second violin); Richard Bauch (viola); and Desiree Abbey (cello) presenting a strongly unified eye of the musical storms surrounding them.

Winnipeg Free Press, 19 March 2015
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
Attendance: 656
4 stars out of 5