The National Academy Orchestra of Canada under the baton of Boris Brott offered a Romantic and Fantastic evening of music to a sold-out audience despite the competition from the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am Games. The evening began with some new music from a young Canadian composer, Jordan Pal, who was in the audience. “‘Burn’ brings to mind the qualities, characteristics and properties of fire: its volatile, destructive and unpredictable nature; and its often overlooked sublime and evanescent states” according to the helpful and descriptive program notes.
One usually associates fire with blaring trumpets, but in this case fast nimble piccolos & violins conjure dancing flames before the brass evokes full-fledged fire.
This was very approachable music and the audience really enjoyed it. Montreal’s La Presse© described Pal as ‘one to watch’. The soloist this evening was Valerie Tryon who played Sergei Rachmaninoff’s popular Piano Concerto #1. This was apparently the composer’s personal favourite of his piano concerti and the solo piano parts are truly lovely; but compared to Nos 2 and 3 does lack drama. Ms. Tryon has recently recorded this work with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and played it with her usual flair much to the delight of the audience who gave her a standing ovation.
After intermission, Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique completed the program. This is a technically challenging work in five movements. The first two movements were conducted by Janna Sailor with a swift and quiet transition to Maestro Brott for the remaining three movements. It was very difficult not to clap after Ms. Sailor’s coherent and clear movements, especially as the 2nd movement is by far the most familiar. Set as a musical story, this piece imagines a love affair seen through an opium-induced haze in which the beloved is an obsessive idée fixe and which ultimately ends in doom as the hero is accused of murdering his lady. The piece ends gloomily with the Dies Irae plainsong. As a piece of musical imagination this is staggering in its longing, complexity and dramatic interplay. Berlioz apparently didn’t play the piano and so worked out his music for orchestra and large ensembles and it shows in some of his unusual pairings – tuba and bells, cellos and basses etc. – to such astonishing effect. The musicians appeared to enjoy playing this and the audience loved it… altogether a lovely concert.