Rhapsodies and Ravel

North Shore Classic Series

Venue: Centennial Theatre, North Vancouver Date: 3 March at 20.00
Conductor: Tania Miller Featured Performer: Vadim Gluzman, Violin

Reviewer: John Jane

When North Vancouverites get an opportunity to see a full-size symphony orchestra in their local Centennial Theatre, it's considered to be a huge treat. So it was no great surprise to have a near sell-out audience in the 750-seat auditorium to see the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra crammed on to its tiny stage. And a programme consisting mainly of compositions from Maurice Ravel would be regarded a bonus.

Ravel was frequently compared to Claude Debussy and unfairly judged n imitator of his contemporary. This was a disservice to both men. I prefer Stravinsky's description of Ravel, who called him ‘"The Swiss Watchmaker," referring to his attention to detail.

The concert started with the arrival of the youthful looking Tania Miller to the podium, wearing her trademark black ankle-length frockcoat. Ms Miller supplied the programme narrative in a light and informative style, and seemed to think it important to create a good-humoured rapport with the audience.

The first selection was Ravel's atmospheric Rhapsodie Espagnole, one of his many compositions with a Basque theme. The orchestra began the piece in typical moody fashion, however, by the third movement Miller allowed the fast-paced festive spirit to show.

The next selection, Chausson's Poème, was at the opposite end of the musical spectrum. For this piece the orchestra was joined by violinist Vadim Gluzman, looking extremely dapper in a preferred dark lounge suit with a silver necktie. Gluzman interpreted the work as a virtuoso showpiece, with all the romantic tone required. Predictably, this was to be followed by Ravel's Tzigane (Gypsy) in which Gluzman fused with the orchestra to the extent that when closing one's eyes, one could almost hear a Hungarian gypsy band.

After the intermission, the orchestra returned with a further selection from Ravel. This time the strangely titled Pavane for a Dead Princess. With mere mention of this composer’s name, either Bolero or the Pavane spring immediately to mind. I have always preferred the rich melody lines in the slow court dance that was Ravel's first key work, to the repetitive thirty-two bar tune. Thankfully, it was the Pavane that made it into this evening's programme.

It was only fitting that a concert showcasing Ravel should also include a selection from Debussy. The three movement Nocturnes is an excellent example of Debussy's impressionist style. Nuages, the first movement featuring prominent woodwind, blissfully recalls clouds moving across a summer sky. Fêtes is a flitting, joyous celebration. Regrettably, the third movement (Sirens) was excluded.

The final selection was Ravel's pessimistic La Valse. The music is initially retrospect, and yet gracious, becoming ever more vague and cynical. Ms Miller led the orchestra in presenting this work probably as Ravel would have intended.

© 2003, John Jane