Romance was revealed as a spectrum of emotions at the impassioned Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert Saturday night at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
The wistfulness of Jean Sibelius’ Valse Triste, the lavishness fun of Sinfonia Concertante by Johann Christian Bach and the exquisite emotiveness of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 all provided different definitions for amourous music.
The show-stopper was the Chopin piece, superbly played by guest pianist Mikolaj Warszynski and a full orchestra.
Chopin’s masterpiece puts the piano front and centre, giving the orchestra musicians backseat roles — except for when Chopin’s explosive, emotional melodies require a bigger musical punch than the piano can provide. Then the whole orchestra leapt in to take the composition to a bigger, more booming place.
If it was a movie, you’d see fireworks.
Warszynski, born, like Chopin, in Poland but raised in Edmonton, is a fluid player who beautifully captured the lilting concerto, which starts with a shimmering, sweeping first movement.
Parts of the delicate melody were so rippling, the pianist’s hands appeared to glide over the keys. Occasionally more powerful strokes were demanded, like musical exclamation points. And Warszynski had the deliberate touch needed to stir larger emotional waves.
The former instructor at the University of Montreal, who now teaches piano in South Korea, has performed as a soloist around the world. And Warszynski, knows his Chopin, having toured Poland playing piano recitals for the Chopin Society of Warsaw and played a Chopin Series with the Baltic Philharmonic orchestra.
He played the concerto’s reflective second movement with a gentle touch, making it sound like a beautiful chimera.
The orchestral performance rose to an expressive climax several times during the last movement, a playful mazurka, only to have the melody pulled back each time by the piano, or a horn.
Finally, after a series of false endings, the sentimental concerto ended elegantly. And the appreciative audience rewarded Warszynski and orchestra for the breathtaking performance with a standing ovation.
Earlier in the concert, A pared-down orchestra of 25 mostly string players (with a few horns, woodwinds players and a percussionist) played a strange Sibelius waltz.
While called sad (triste), but it’s more like wistful, said music director Claude Lapalme, who noted there was no appropriate French word for this emotion.
But few waltzes sound anything like this Finnish one. It’s otherworldly strains were accomplished by clamping mutes on the strings of some instruments. The ghostly, low-key tune was used in a play about death, written by Sibelius’s brother-in-law. Unsurprisingly, it ended like a quiet sigh.
In contrast, the lively concertante by Johann Sebastian Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian Bach sounded like a decorative Mozart piece — especially its Rococo first movement and the final minuet. This too makes sense, since the younger Bach was Mozart’s music teacher, said Lapalme, who noted his influence on the younger composer.
The concertante made its Canadian premiere on Saturday with the RDSO, and spotlighted some of the orchestra’s very fine musicians through a series of small instrumental solos throughout — including for the flute clarinet, horns and bassoon.
The delightful performance captured the high-spirited fun of romance, with all its hearts, flowers and curlicues.