Having conjured vivid, epic imagery from two continents, Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and conductor Claude Lapalme earned two standing ovations during the closing concert of the season.
The sold-out One Thousand and One Nights presentation at the Red Deer College Arts Centre on Saturday night started with a rousing Ian Tyson/Claude Lapalme version of Four Strong Winds — which instantly become an audience favorite.
Several years ago, Lapalme was commissioned by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to arrange the classic Western Canadian folk tune for performance by a full orchestra.
The conductor jokingly called the arranging he does on the side his “black market work,” and admitted he sometimes has to “dig very deep” to come up with the compositions.
The ESO liked his arrangement of Four Strong Winds enough to have played it numerous times.
The Red Deer Symphony is the only other orchestra with the right to perform it — which the RDSO finally did for the first time on Saturday, under Lapalme’s direction.
“The song is not at all about wind,” said the conductor. But Lapalme used woodwind instruments to create a gentle wind effect that started off the piece by seeming to stir Alberta’s prairie grasses.
The Tyson/Lapalme orchestral version retains the sweeping melody of the original, but is more dreamy and evocative.
The cellos created a moody, turbulent feeling, while brass instruments played the familiar melody line that built to a crescendo and then slowly faded.
The gusting ‘wind’ seemed to blow hard enough to bend poplar trees, then calmed down again, until only a few grass stems seemed to be moving.
Before launching into the piece, Lapalme said he hoped the audience will like it.
His answer came when listeners rose to their feet to give Lapalme’s arrangement of Four Strong Winds the first standing ovation of the evening.
Guest violin soloist Aaron Au followed by performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major with a slightly reduced orchestra of oboes, horns and strings.
The popular concerto began with a spirited first movement that evolved into a sweetly melodic dialogue between violin and orchestra.
The middle one was slower and more reflective, with a lovely melody that was stopped short.
Then, Mozart brought a touch of the Orient to the last lighthearted movement, which is supposed to sound Turkish.
Au is a graceful player who smoothed over difficult transitions and brought out the flashes of colour the composer intended.
In other word, the first violinist with the ESO made this challenging work look easy.
The most epic piece on the program — Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, was saved for last — and it was certain worth the wait.
Rimsky-Korsakov is the Cecil B. DeMille of music-making, creating behemoth technicolour masterpieces that really sound like they should be movie soundtracks.
Of course, there were no movies when Scheherazade was composed in the late 1800s.
The composer named his four movements after stories from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, specifically The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, The Kalendar Prince, The Young Prince and the Young Princess, and Festival at Baghdad.
But Rimsky-Korsakov warned against listeners talking a too literal an interpretation, saying he mostly composed the music from his own imagination.
Still, it was impossible to hear the RDSO’s performance of this poetic work without ‘seeing’ the hazardous sea voyage, the romantic love story and a whimsical street festival.
The orchestra evoked the vivid imagery with memorable turns from the bassoon, harp, and oboe. But it was first violinist Naomi Delafield who brought emotional resonance to the piece, as the “voice” of the courageous storyteller Scheherazade.
It was a highly entertaining end to a fine concert season — and brought the RDSO another well-earned standing ovation.