Tour Eiffel fitting finale

Orchestra London, Tour Eiffel, May 24, 2014, Masterworks, Centennial Hall

The final program of Orchestra London’s Masterworks series in the 2013-2014 was a bittersweet event indeed. The music was glorious, fitting for a season’s finale, but the spirit was tempered by the knowledge that this was Alain Trudel’s valedictory salute to the Orchestra. Over the span of a few brief years, Trudel brought fire and fun to the city, to the players, to loyal audiences who were invigorated by the Maestro’s irrepressible love of music-making.

The Gallic connection, one of Trudel’s passions, was the foundation of the program – but the descriptor generously embraced Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D major K. 297 (“Paris”).  Mozart (1756-1791) composed this symphony during the course of a six-month stint in Paris, a period that he hoped would yield professional recognition and advancement. The Symphony expressed the exuberance, the optimism of a young man on the threshold of adult accomplishment, and in June 1778, when Mozart offered this work for performance on the Concert Spirituel series, he had reason to expect big things based on its positive reception. The long and short of Mozart’s sojourn in France, however, was not happy – he failed to find support among the power elite, and even more disastrously, his mother died barely a month after the premier performance of the Symphony in D. BUT, we have the legacy of a great work, which Orchestra London presented in stylish form. The entire symphony glitters with sophisticated gestures – for the first time, Mozart introduced the clarinet into his inventory of symphonic instruments, which included in this work the panoply of winds, horns, trumpets and tympani. Fireworks erupted from the opening bars; elegance in the second movement (the second version that Mozart wrote, to conform to the preference of his hosts); and brilliance in the Allegro which contained an ingenious fugato in its central portion, accused by contemporary reviewers of “interest(ing) the mind without touching the heart.” Well, one can say with full accuracy and assurance that Orchestra London played with understanding, precision and plenty of heart, demonstrating, as they have throughout the past season, a true affinity for the music of Mozart.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) composed his two great works for piano and orchestra during the final third of his life. The birthing process was a slow one, for the Concerto in G, begun in 1929, was not ready for performance until January 1932.  Ravel himself was too frail to perform, although he did conduct. Ravel claimed his “only wish was to write a genuine concerto – that is, a brilliant work, clearly highlighting the soloist’s virtuosity, without seeking profundity.” Ravel far exceeded his modest ambition. The Concerto, though paying homage to Gershwin and jazz, to the Classical form employed by Mozart, to the lucidity of French esthetic ideals, nonetheless is a work of rich imagination. In Sara Davis Buechner, the Concerto had a most perfect interpreter. Buechner possesses the touch of genius where the mood, the spirit of jazz is concerned, in addition to having formidable energy. Every idea was clearly delineated, the electrical current fairly crackled. Buechner and the orchestra breathed in complete coordination with each other. Trudel steered the course from the opening “whip crack” through the languid, lyrical, Adagio, and then across the wild reaches of the Presto. The audience spontaneously leapt to a standing ovation, moved by a performance notable for its vitality, insight and brilliance.

The Dance by Claude Debussy (1869-1918), orchestrated by Ravel, and the Sinfonietta by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) rounded out the program with images of lightness and clarity. Orchestra London bid their Maestro adieu with love and insouciance, well-wishing for an artist who contributed so much to the musical life of our town.

(Out of 4 Stars)

Renée Silberman is an essayist on topics of musical interest who has authored program notes for performances in concert halls in Canada and the U.S. She is the founder of the Serenata Music Series.