Chestnuts Breaking Barriers From Ontario
Breaking Barriers Tanya Charles Iveniuk (Vivaldi), Yanet Campbell Secades (Bach), violin; Marlene Ngalissamy, bassoon. Ontario Pops Orchestra/Carlos Bastidas OPO Disc One: Total Time: 52:12 Disc Two: Total Time: 51:43 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
The Ontario Pops Orchestra is one of the most diverse professional ensembles in Canada since its inception in 2014. It was founded by Carlos Bastidas in the spirit of the Boston Pops Orchestra; balancing classical and pop music on its diverse programs while also working to highlight the music of women and BIPOC composers and performers. The present release was dropped to streaming services last Fall and will be made available for the orchestra’s March 31 concert in Toronto. With that in mind, it is worth noting that it is a sort of memento that allows support of the orchestra with a physical release for those wishing to support the ensemble. It also provides a platform for performance by three Black women as soloists.
The program itself seems decidedly non-pops otherwise in a more traditional collection of familiar ieces. It features fine soloists traversing Vivaldi’s “Summer” concerto from The Four Seasons, Bach’s first violin concerto and solo performance of the adagio from his third violin sonata; and a fine little Vivaldi bassoon concerto (RV. 484). The program is filled out with a run of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g, K. 550 and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, as well as an energetic reading of Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite. To say these are pieces all well-represented in recorded repertoire is an understatement. But, overall the program should appeal to most casual listeners of Classical music and make for a fine way to support the orchestra’s mission.
It also helps that the overall sound here is excellent. The hall hear allows for just enough warmth while the recording is set up to allow a bit more detail in the orchestral sections. One can hear this from the outset in the Mozart symphony with even well-delineated lines from across the strings. Good balance with wind lines also occurs, though these can feel a bit more forward. Those lines are beautifully shaped as well. Articulation and attention to detail can also be heard throughout the performance which make for a fine reading of the work. That forward sound puts the soloists very forward in the sound picture when we move into the concerti here. In a way, it is a both-and sort of sound that somehow captures the details of the ensemble as well as those of the solo interweaving with them That may be another of the detailed approach that Bastidas is drawing from the orchestra throughout which allow for listeners to perhaps hear the music anew. The Holst is the one modern anomaly here which makes for a great closer to disc one. The dynamic shadings and articulation detail make for engaging performances.
The soloists each provide fine modern performances of their respective works. Tanya Charles Iveniuk brings great excitement and forward motion in the outer movements of the “Summer” concerto of Vivaldi. The slow movement allows a bit more opportunity for warmer contrast of lyrical playing as well. On disc two, Yanet Campbell Secades provides a fine reading of the Bach concerto, with a beautiful lyrical performance of the slow movement and strong finale; the encored “adagio” from Bach’s third solo sonata, gets to highlight that style a bit more. There is fine attention to detail and shaping of phrases here throughout. There is a tad of intonation struggles in the low strings in the slow movement a times. Marlene Ngalissamy demonstrates great ease and facility in her reading of the Vivaldi Bassoon concerto. There are fine moments here for technical virtuosity which she accomplishes with a natural ease in the outer movements. The more singing style of the instrument comes through well in the slow movement. It makes for a fitting conclusion to the second disc. Each of the soloists here are impressive and hopefully there will be more to come from each in the future.
The familiar programming will be engaging to most casual listeners and in that respect, the album is quite successful. Another important aspect of the ensemble is its diversity and it is worth stressing that seeing the group and its dedicated and superb soloists is really important to help younger people in diverse populations realize that these masterworks are worth exploring and can communicate their deep meaning across the centuries. That alone is a value that can help introduce new audiences to this music and open the door for more exploration. This program should then accomplish this quite well with YouTube clips that can help provide the visual component to many of the performances here. While the release showcases the orchestra and its fine soloists, it would have been great to have newer works that could help expand our horizons in terms of newer works and pieces, though perhaps this is a result of needing to stick with public domain works for this release. One can hope that a more diverse program is in the works and most composers will likely welcome the exposure with such dedicated performances here.