The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra opened its 2016-2017 Season with Symphonic Splendour, a rich tapestry of lush symphonic works designed to delight and satisfy.
Billed as the ‘meat and potatoes of symphonic music’ the concert began with Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály’s 1933 composition Dances of Galanta.
Commissioned by the Budapest Philharmonic Society, Kodály used folk tunes he remembered from living in Galanta as a boy. In the Hungarian Rhapsody tradition established by Liszt, this work combined languid, pensive sections with wild rhapsodies. Kodály’s masterful orchestration, combined with a fun, toe-tapping finale, put a smile on every face and was an inspired opening to this concert of symphonic standards. Kudos to Erin Fung on clarinet for her lovely recurring solos.
The next work on the program featured Canadian born violinist Lara St. John performing Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. This concerto, described by Maestra Rosemary Thomson as a “Mount Everest” in the world of violin music, was initially panned by an Austrian critic. Fortunately it has survived to the present and the audience was thrilled to hear it performed so exquisitely by St. John.
The first movement is a massive 20 minutes in length and features very tricky writing, so much so that at times it sounded like two violins playing double stop harmony and rhythmic melody. The second movement featured a Gypsy-like song narrative, each phrase carefully shaped to convey the subtext message. St. John played sincerely and from the heart with total honesty and candour. The relentless Cossack dance-like finale offered St. John the opportunity to display effortless virtuosic passages tossed off with ease and panache. Yet, for all her sophistication, St. John was not above throwing a fiddle riff into her final cadenza, much to the open delight of her fellow musicians on stage. For her part, Thomson did an admirable job of holding the work together, ably supporting the soloist while bringing out the essential elements of the composition as a whole. Both soloist and orchestra received a resounding and well-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion.
The evening was rounded out by a performance of Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major. A mature composer of 44 when Brahms wrote it, this symphony feels settled and confident.
Good, solid orchestrations marked the first movement—satisfying and no nonsense. There is an atmosphere of pastoral warmth and tranquility in the sweeping lines and clear writing. Fine ensemble work here with attention to phrasing and balance. The second movement contained stately music arranged for full throated strings. Thomson’s interpretation had clear direction as themes wove together to reach poignant moments of tension and release.
The third movement opened with a gentle, lilting tune which portrayed a genial quality. This was periodically interspersed with fast running allegro episodes which added a spark of playfulness. The triumphant finale was a good, spirited allegro and very indicative of the type of music we associate with Brahms. The determined and forward motion of the theme carried right through to the end of this 50-minute symphony, and Thomson conducted with energy and passion to the last chord. Kudos to French Horn player Scott Wilson for his fine solos throughout, and to guest Concert Mistress Susan Schaffer for ensuring the string section was tight and well rehearsed.
If good music is as nurturing to the spirit as meat and potatoes to the body, then concert-goers to the OSO’s Symphonic Splendour were fortunate to find sustenance of such fine quality and variety. Congratulations Maestra Thomson and the entire Symphony organization for presenting such a fine opening concert. Symphonic Splendour opened in Penticton on Oct. 22 at the Cleland Theatre, Oct. 21 in the Kelowna Community Theatre and on Oct. 23 in Vernon.
Anita Perry is a concert reviewer for the Penticton Western News.