Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier
Jean Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto
Maurice Ravel: Trio (orch. Tortelier)
Paul Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The Sibelius was a brand new work for me, and I didn’t really know what to expect out of it. I have to say that it grew on me more and more as it went on. It was relatively brief, but deceptively simple - though there’s not much movement in the orchestra on a large scale, the very divided string parts allow for all sorts of ebbing and motion to take place under the surface. It’s a masterful depiction of the swan sailing smoothly over the dangerous, mysterious water. The English horn solo was gorgeous - warm, full, and lyrical, with none of the honking or cracking that I have so often heard out of that instrument. I was very aware of Maestro Tortelier’s movements during the piece - they were surprisingly large, especially in the very soft beginning. I suspect that it was to some degree necessitated by motion in the inner parts that I didn’t catch on a first hearing, but still, the pattern looked huge for the sound that was coming out. In any case, the work is gorgeous, and I look forward to the next time I get to hear it.
The Grieg was fantastic. It had so much character and was just fun to listen to. The pianist, Orion Weiss, is only 26 years old! 26!!!!! Being 25 myself, I find his resume both amazing and disgusting (all in jealously, of course!).
The Ravel was by far the highlight of the evening. For about 15 minutes before the piece began, Maestro Tortelier gave a mini lecture-recital on his orchestration, and his enthusiasm and love for the piece was absolutely contagious. He is a charming and genuine speaker, and he truly made this concert one that I will remember for a long time. He began by talking about his history with the Trio - how he would play it with his father and sister “as often as possible and wherever possible.” I was particularly touched by a story he told about his father, who asked him one day how the arrangement was coming along. Tortelier replied that it was coming, but slowly. His father commented that that was the usual reply, and retorted that he hoped to hear the finished product before he died. Tortelier laughed and joked that this was the reason he was taking so long. Sadly, his father died several months later and never did hear the arrangement of their beloved trio. Tonight’s performance was dedicated to him.
The Maestro displayed an almost childlike excitement as he illustrated many aspects of his orchestration for the audience by having passages played first in the original context and then in orchestral form. His explanations often seemed gleeful (for example, after hearing the trio perform a section from the fourth movement, Tortelier told the audience that Ravel is said to have commented that the passage never sounded “trumpet-y enough.” He then laughed as he shrugged that he simply “corrected” the problem, cueing the brass for a vibrant fanfare.) He noted that while many might question the need for an arrangement of one of the most-loved staples of the trio repertoire (and the audacity of attempting to orchestrate the great RAVEL!), any pianist would tell you that more than 10 fingers are needed to truly do the work justice.
The orchestration of the work was sweeping, delicate, and varied, and was clearly true to Ravel’s intent. It will be an absolute deprivation if this work fails to find its way into the symphonic repertoire.
The evening closed with Dukas. In the program, Mark Rohr writes: “Yes - it’s difficult, if not impossible, to listen to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice without visualizing Mickey Mouse in the title role. You are forgiven.” The same spirited levity of those notes seemed to permeate the orchestra as they gave a performance that was full of vitality. It really was the icing on a most delicious cake. :)