A review of the Canadian pianist’s performance with the Victoria Symphony
On Oct. 27, Monsieur Laplante wasted no time as he walked onto Royal Theatre’s stage, warmly greeting guest conductor Alain Trudel and concertmaster Terence Tam before turning towards the audience to acknowledge our applause. We had been warmed up to hear Laplante perform in this all-Beethoven concert by the first opus on the list: the Egmont Overture, a work for orchestra. The Latin word opus means a composed work, and the term “opera” is the plural form of opus. The latter is commonly used to describe staged musical dramas known as operas.
Although the Egmont Overture was premiered in 1810 as Beethoven’s 84th published work, it certainly was not his 84th composition, as the bridge between inspiration and publication is not always linear. The subject of his inspiration was the play Egmont, written by Johann Von Goëthe. Besides Beethoven, Goëthe’s writings have been set to music by other great composers like Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf and Johannes Brahms. The overture was very expressive, at times heroic, and well played; yet, it was not one of Beethoven’s masterpieces. Nevertheless, for a music lover, it was nice to hear the composition live.
Following the Overture and Laplante’s entrance, the Orchestral Introduction of Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto, composed in 1800, began. The theme was then echoed by the solo piano. A theme is the main musical idea expressed at the beginning of a movement or work — for example, the infamous three-note theme of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. Laplante’s sound emitted the true spirit of Beethoven, which was not limited to rich tone colours, but was also exemplified by explosive contrasts in dynamics and mood. Also enjoyable was the shape Laplante gave to each line, which was supported by a tasteful amount of rubato (robbed time) and space that he carefully placed within and between the phrases, imbuing them with a cantabile (a singable or song-like) quality.
It was beyond ordinary playing, and it solidified my understanding of why Laplante has been a prize-winner at several international competitions, including tying for second place at the 1978 International Tchaikovsky Competition. As he reached the end of the last movement, Laplante surprised the audience with the brisk tempo he chose for the final coda (Latin for “tail”, and the end of a section or movement). The fear of tripping over his flying fingers had no influence over this experienced performer.
From a collaborative point of view, Monsieur Trudel, backed by the Victoria Symphony, partnered well with Laplante. The challenge in any collaborative performance is in supporting each other’s artistic choices, some of which are discussed in rehearsal while others are dealt with as they occur in real time. Monsieur Trudel supported each of Laplante’s artistic whims without a lilt.
Rounding off this trio of Beethoven’s works was the unforgettable 5th Symphony, first performed in 1808, and best known for its principal three-note motif alluding to fate, i.e. Beethoven’s deafness, knocking at his door. He had been aware since 1796 that his hearing was deteriorating.
There is a dubious tendency in performance to distort the rhythmic emphasis of the motive. In the score, Beethoven penned:
As the first note does not appear on the downbeat (beginning) of the two-beat measure, it acts as a lighter “pick-up” or “antecedent” leading towards the first fully emphasized downbeat of measure two. However, in performance, one often hears the rhythm prescribed as:
The result is a one-beat measure, with the first and fourth notes of the motif being accented.
As Trudel readied his baton, my heart beat strongly in anticipation of which rhythm I would hear. Alas, I heard the latter rendition, with its distorted emphasis. In fairness, such detail is a matter of semantics and doesn’t detract from the heartfelt performance. As the first movement progressed, the true rhythmic emphasis emerged just as Beethoven had prescribed during the theme’s many repetitions.
If you haven’t been to Royal Theatre to hear Victoria’s Symphony Orchestra, or have never been to hear an orchestra live, then you’ll be pleased to know that the Victoria Symphony offers $13 tickets to those ages 15–35 for each of its more than 50 concerts per season. Visit www.VictoriaSymphony.ca for more info.