By WILLIAM AMORY
For Montclair Local
The Montclair Orchestra’s last concert of its inaugural season was a flourish of orchestral color, bringing the audience along on a tour of France, Russia, Austria and back to France, with a flavorful dollop of Carnival thrown in for good measure.
As an introduction to the concert of colors, no piece could better serve the purpose than Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin.“ The sweep of the very first phrases beckoned us into Ravel’s world of color. His prelude starts with a lovely chamber orchestra sound of mellow, fall-like colors, and was enhanced by conductor David Chan’s strong push and pull of Ravel’s beautiful phrases. Moments in the Menuet stood out where we heard sheets of steely gray and black, alternating with moments of brighter and sunnier color; and in the vivid Rigaudon, the swirling sense of the dance was colored mostly by the oboe parts, beautifully played.
The second piece on the program brought a great orchestral colorist’s talents to the music of another composer: here,Tchaikovsky orchestrates music by Mozart affectionately, lavishing on it his full-spectrum sensibility, along with the sonorities of a bigger and more diverse 19th century symphony orchestra. Tchaikovsky’s treatment produces a blooming of Mozart’s slenderer sound into a sound with a darker depth and strong hues. His full transformation of color was heard in the “Preghiera,“ familiar as “Ave verum corpus.“ The performance was beautiful, but could have used even more commitment to a 19th century sense of color, with even more rubato and drama in the shadings of color — it is a passionate piece. “Aveverum“ was as perfect as Mozart wrote it, but it also works in Tchaikovsky’s world of sound, expressing a different dimension of passion and beauty.
After the intermission, the Mozart “Serenade No. 6” was played, and as Chan expressed in brief remarks, it is a piece most likely composed for an event, primarily meant to be entertaining. Here the close relationship between sonic color and emotional color was manifest. Mozart’s very traditional handing the solo part from instrument to instrument was here comically started at the very top of the string range, proceeding to the bottom and then some, starting with the first violin and proceeding with each solo instrument down to the double bass, and on to the timpani! Chan supplied unobtrusive comic gestures as if to say, “any other instruments we’ve missed?“ and turned to segue back into the piece.
Milhaud’s “Le boeuf sur le toit“ brought out all the colors of the rainbow. Milhaud paints the vivid colors of a carnival street festival, and adds undreamed-of colors mixed in the juxtaposition of so many tunes in so many keys. This piece brought the night’s exploration of color to an exhilarating close. But the rollicking good-time character never felt out of control: it is as if Milhaud knows exactly how far to go with the dissonances and rhythmic complexities of so many tunes, before he brings us back to a toe-tapping, impossible-not- to-move- along-with tune in the trumpets.
The playing was excellent and infectious. There could have been a better balance among the instruments, but it might just be impossible in St. Luke’s to make the strings heard when the brass and woodwinds predominate.
Expectations of great playing and a great variety of orchestral color were high for this, the final concert of Montclair Orchestra’s first season, and, for the most part, they were well met. The arc of the concert was well conceived by Chan as a tour of symphonic color, and was expressed in excellent playing and great ensemble.