The RDSO audience was briefly transported back 300 years in time on Saturday night, to when Antonio Vivaldi’s now exhaustively performed The Four Seasons was a brand new piece of cutting-edge performance art.
With its descriptions of barking dogs, swarming insects and thunderstorms, the composition aimed to replicate sounds of nature, and was considered “quite radical” when first published in 1725, said violinist Marc Destrubé.
The Canadian soloist who performs with the Axelrod String Quartet in Washington D.C. gave an exciting and evocative performance of the Vivaldi staple with a pared-down Red Deer Symphony Orchestra at the Red Deer College Arts Centre — and was rewarded for his passionate interpretation with an enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation.
But part of what brought the baroque work to life was his poetic introductions to each movement.
Before launching into each “season,” Destrubé read sonnets that Vivaldi reportedly created for his 18th Century audience.
Granted, the composer was no Wordsworth, but his descriptions of nature help listeners understand what he was trying to describe through his music.
For instance, flower-strewn meadows and bird song were behind the three lighthearted movements that constitute Spring. Gathering thunderclouds and insects preceded an intense and turbulent Summer.
The dance-like movements of Autumn were anticipated by a sonnet about a post-harvest celebration and hunting trip, while poetic lines about winter’s bite and the cosy fireside were precursors for the crisp Winter movements.
The 12 strings musicians and harpsichordist often played duelling solos. But regardless of whether their various melody lines converged or diverged, the highly skilled musicians always remained remarkably attuned to each other.
And their combined result was breathtakingly beautiful.
Destrubé is a wonderful player with the gift of making his considerable talents appear effortless, and it was a treat to hear the baroque expert do what he does best.
The RDSO’s A Concert for All Seasons also contained two works by Johann Sebastian Bach — the famous Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major.
Conductor Claude Lapalme promised the latter would have “more muscle” than the gently undulating Air — and it did.
The stately Brandenburg piece actually features solos by the oboe, violin, and flute. But it was the RDSO’s newly appointed trumpet player, Richard Scholz, who had the unenviable task of taking on a solo so difficult Lapalme described it as being “almost unplayable.”
The first and third movements of the concerto contain a crazy number of notes for the trumpet. They appear at both the very upper and very lower ends of the registry and require lightning-fast fingerwork and incredible breath control.
All things considered, Scholz, who was also playing on a small modern trumpet and not a baroque instrument, performed the majestic piece with great flourish and panache.