Okanagan Symphony Orchestra concert-goers were treated to a broad palate of colours this weekend at the fourth concert in the Masterworks series, Colours of Russia.
Opening with Dutch composer Edward Top’s somewhat edgy piece, Eruption, Maestra Rosemary Thomson led us into a kaleidoscopic world of fantastic patterns and rhythmic shifts. Pulsing rhythms drove this piece forward with lots of special effects—col legno in the strings, all kinds of glissandi and a richly padded percussion section. The colours of this work were primarily dark and reflected the composer’s experimentation with a blend of medieval French ars nova style and thrash Metallica. Kudos to Maestra Thomson for choosing this work and to the entire orchestra for being able to pull it off work with conviction.
The next piece on the program was Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by Korean guest concert pianist Minsoo Sohn. Aptly suited to a concert dedicated to colours, each of the 24 variations on this lively theme sparkled with its own unique hue. From the moment he walked on stage, it was clear Sohn was focused on what he wanted to communicate, playing the piano with clear direction and purpose. From the playful fifth variation to the lush and iconic melody of the 18th variation, Sohn always had a clear concept of the colour and character of the music. Thanks to Maestra Thomson’s lively baton-work, the orchestra was tight and performed as a unit with the soloist. The audience did not hesitate to spring to its feet for a standing ovation after the powerful and driving race to the end of the work.
Capping off the evening was Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Tableaux d’une Exposition (Pictures at an Exhibition) as orchestrated by French composer Maurice Ravel. This work was inspired by Mussorgsky’s visit to an exhibition of paintings by his close friend Victor Hartman who had died the previous year. Mussorgsky was so moved by the art that he wanted to immortalize his friend’s work in sound and wrote ten pieces for piano, each titled with the name of a painting or sketch. Many years later Ravel, a master of orchestration, arranged it for orchestra and it has become a widely recognized classic.
From the ringing trumpet notes opening the Promenade to the exquisite ensemble work of the woodwind section in Ballet des Poussins dans leur Coques (Dance of the Un-hatched Chicks), the orchestra performed admirably. Special kudos to trumpet player Audrey Patterson, alto saxophone player Craig Thomson and oboist Lauris Davis for their fine solo work. Thomson led the orchestra with a sure hand, coaxing a full spectrum of colours from the musicians on stage. The final movement La Grande Porte de Kiev (the Great Gate of Kiev) shimmered with glorious golden tones and powerful brass work. It was the perfect conclusion to this concert and the entire Okanagan Symphony Orchestra deserves to be congratulated for their fine and heartfelt playing.
Without a doubt, the colours of Russia visited the Okanagan this weekend thanks to the vision and passion of Rosemary Thomson and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.
Anita Perry is a symphony reviewer for the Penticton Western News.