Heated passion. Lovers walking hand in hand down tiny tree-lined streets. The Eiffel Tower. This weekend the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra invited us to join them on that walk with their second concert in their Masterworks series, The French Connection: Music from the French Romantics.
The concert opened with the Hector Berlioz’s Chasse Royole et Oroge from his opera Les Troyens.
This is Berlioz’s most ambitious work, the summation of his entire artistic career.
The work is a highly programmatic description of an idyllic morning (complete with dewy sunrise and chirping birds), a musical romp, and then a storm with thundering timpani.
Think of a French romantic version of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony and you’ll get it.
There was some very fine playing here from Christine Moore on flute and Scott Wilson off-stage on French horn solo.
The next work on the program was Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21.
In spite of his Spanish sounding name, Lalo is a French composer born and bred, although his style definitely shows Germanic influence in harmony and melodic structure.
This work is, in fact, a violin concerto and the performance featured 23-year-old Timothy Chooi as soloist.
Because the performer is so young, the audience experienced the rare treat of seeing the artist looking exactly like his publicity photos.
That Chooi is such a young touring artist is certainly worth noting, but a great deal of fuss has been made over the fact that he is currently performing on a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin.
However, arguing that Chooi’s draw is more about his instrument than his ability would be wrong.
From the moment this young man walked on the stage, he was poised and self-confident and his playing followed suit.
His technical passages were effortless, and his fingers flew up and down the fingerboard with trills so fast they sounded like harmonics.
Chooi captured the bombastic character of the Allegro Non Troppo movement, the flirtatious charm of the Scherzando and the celebratory charisma of the Rondo.
However, it was in the Andante movement that Chooi proved he was more than a technician.
The violin sang, wept and throbbed with yearning and regret.
His musicianship was consummate, proving that it doesn’t matter the name of the instrument, but it’s what you do with it that counts.
The final number, Camille Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 Op. 78 in C minor, was a real tour-de-force for the orchestra and one which Maestra Rosemary Thomson had long wanted to program.
Of composing the work Saint-Saëns said, “I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again,” and it is abundantly clear that the composer poured his heart into every phrase and every harmony.
The music is complex, rich with lots of cross dialogues between sections and Thomson kept the orchestra firmly in hand.
There were moments when she appeared to sculpt the sound delicately and other times where she drove the orchestra with maniacal energy.
Kudos to Rachel Alflatt who played the electronic organ and pianist Carol Colpitts for her brilliant passages.
Altogether, it was an evening of heady and heated romance to warm the spirit on a blustery November evening.