Monday, November 7, 2016

Ethereal harp concertos elevate Vancouver Symphony's all-French program

Valerie Muzzolini Gordon, Principal Harpist of the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera, delivered sublime performances of concertos by Gabriel Pierné and Claude Debussy with the Vancouver Symphony on Saturday afternoon (November 5) at Skyview Concert Hall. Her playing highlighted an all-French program that featured Debussy’s “Nocturnes” with the women of the Vancouver USA Singers and the Suite No. 2 from Maurice Ravel’s ballet “Daphnis and Chloé.” All of the works were led by the orchestra’s Music Director, Salvador Brotons.

Muzzolini Gordon’s interpretation of Pierné’s “Concert Piece for Harp and Orchestra” was a pure delight. Her impeccable playing elicited lovely melodies and a lush, translucent quality that was heavenly. The brief cadenzas and the softest sections of the piece added to the enchantment. The simultaneous video projection of her hands onto the large screens on either side of the stage combined marvelously with the beautiful music to entrance the audience. No one coughed while she played.

After intermission, Muzzolini Gordon delivered a magical performance of Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances.” The radiant chords of the sacred portion of the music evoked a divine timelessness. The profane or secular portion had the feathery lightness of a waltz. Superb accompaniment by the orchestral strings allowed Muzzolini Gordon to bring out many dynamic nuances, which made the music immensely enjoyable. Again, the listeners were totally mesmerized by her facile technique, and she drew sustained, enthusiastic applause after the piece ended.

In the orchestra’s performance of the Second Suite from Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé,” it was easy to imagine the rising of the sun over a pastoral landscape. The fluttering flutes created babbling brooks and birds flying about. The orchestra suggested the outline of a story that depicted the love between the young shepherd Daphnis and the beautiful shepherdess Chloé. The wildness of the general dance that celebrates their love went a bit awry with the oboes, but it did get off the ground and the orchestra succeeded in generating an enchanting swirl.

Brotons rearranged the program order, starting the concert with Debussy’s “Nocturnes,” an atmospheric piece with contrasting orchestral colors. In the first movement, “Clouds,” the orchestra created impressions of light and dark shadows that slowly changed. Mysterious rising tones from the English horn, and the expert playing of Principal Flutist Rachel Rencher helped to evoke the changing sky. The second movement, “Festivals,” was peppered with perky woodwinds and a brash brass section. The third, “Sirens” meshed the wafting sonorities of the women of the Vancouver USA Singers with the sounds that ebbed and flowed from the orchestra. Some slippage in the intonation of the violins and cellos in the first movement interfered with the sonic texture, but the spirit of the music still managed to shine.

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