Weekend showcases familiar and unfamiliar masterworks

Inon Barnatan
Vancouver Sun

By David Gordon Duke

This weekend at the Telus Studio Theatre, the Turning Point Ensemble enlisted the support of the Vancouver Cantata Singers to present a program focused on three extended works for voices and instruments: Revolutions, by Kristopher Fulton; Stravinsky's 1952 Cantata; and Janacek's Nursery Rhymes.

Also on tap were a few unaccompanied choral works and Judith Weir's 1994 Musicians Wrestle Everywhere.

The Weir isn't particularly substantial, but has a sort of busy charm which highlighted the Turning Point's practised instrumentalists, led by Owen Underhill. Janacek's Nursery Rhymes (1926), on the other hand, is strikingly original -- a product of his late period and simply inimitable music, rhythmically unpredictable, oddly (but perfectly) conceived for instruments and voices.

Friday's performance, under the direction of Eric Hannan, could have used a measure more assurance, yet the work made a powerful impact. As did Stravinsky's mid-century modern Cantata, an ascetic, often cerebral composition, but one which shows another old master writing music exactly as he wished.

If Kristopher Fulton's Revolutions, with text by Kico Gonzalez-Risso, lacks the shattering originality of Janacek or the ultrafine polish of Stravinsky, it proved a theatrical crowd pleaser.

Fulton's way with choir and his deft handling of a potentially unruly collection of instruments marks him as a young composer with something to say and the craft to say it with eloquence.

Another young musician with a great deal to say is pianist Inon Barnatan, who opened the Vancouver Recital Society's season at the Playhouse Sunday afternoon. We hear an awful lot of brilliant up-and-coming pianists in Vancouver, but British-trained Barnatan impresses with the depth of his musicianship, as well as formidable technique.

Barnatan's program was unusually wide ranging and intricately put together, beginning with a particularly breezy reading of Beethoven's E-flat major Sonata, Op. 32.

Then, in the twinkling of an eye, the program changed from a comedy of manners to contemporary tragedy, with Ronald Stevenson's astonishingly powerful re-working of themes from Benjamin Britten's outsider opera Peter Grimes.

Barnatan closed the program with Maurice Ravel's outrageously difficult arrangement of his bitter homage to Vienna, La Valse.

A single work made up the program's second half, Schubert's monumental A major Sonata, D. 959, a work whose musical and emotional demands stretch any performer to the limit.

Barnatan's way with Schubert is all about the balance of intimate moments and epic scale; his interpretation shines with authority and compelling empathy.