Russian concert truly a gem for Penticton

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra review of Russian Gems held in Penticton last weekend.

Last Saturday night the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra played the last concert of the season titled Russian Gems.

Students of the South Okanagan Registered Music Teachers Association provided the pre-concert entertainment in the foyer of the Cleland Theatre. The theatre lights dimmed and the Polonaise from Tschaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin filled the hall with energizing, festive strains.

Conductor Rosemary Thomson introduced the next piece, Prelude to Khovanshchina by Mussorgsky: an atmospheric tone poem. It depicts first rays of the winter sun striking the onion domes of the Kremlin.

A melody on violas rose up and passed on to flutes and strings. Trumpet accents and a delicate theme on oboe were underlined by harp and cello pizzicato.

Alexander Borodin was one of the first Russian composers to write a symphony. His Symphony No.1 blends Russian folkloric elements with German romanticism into an innovative colourful and sophisticated composing style. The symphony reached its climax in the fourth movement where a percussive rhythmic repeats in a scherzo, a fugue and in a grandiose anthem.

The entire second half of the program was devoted to Tschaikovky’s wonderful Piano Concerto No.1. Packed with joyful emotions and hauntingly beautiful melodies this composition is also a pinnacle of virtuosity.

We were fortunate to experience world renowned pianist Ian Parker perform this concerto. That same afternoon he had given a master-class for advanced piano students at Penticton’s St. Saviour’s church. Now he stepped on the stage with a spring in his step and explained the structure of the piece to the audience.

Then the French horns played their bold opening with vigorous piano chords and a soaring melody on strings. It was like being carried away on a big wave of sound. Ian Parker played with great drama and urgency, with poetry and sensitivity and with dazzling virtuosity. He visibly enjoyed every moment of the performance. With undiminished stamina he trilled and cascaded through intricate passages staying relaxed and precise at all times.

At the end the audience was on its feet in an instant for an ovation. Ian Parker bowed and gallantly kissed Rosemary Thomson’s hand. He endeared himself even more with the audience by playing Gerschwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as an encore.  What a suitable finale for another successful concert season with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Roswitha Masson is a Okanagan musician and symphony enthusiast.