RDSO dabbles in the ridiculous

Everything from the divine to the ridiculous will be rolled into the next Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday, Oct. 31, titled Of Paintings, Prayers and Plays.

Everything from the divine to the ridiculous will be rolled into the next Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday, Oct. 31, titled Of Paintings, Prayers and Plays.

But even the ridiculous will be a feast for the senses, promises the RDSO’s musical director Claude Lapalme. “It’s a good ridiculous,” said Lapalme of Jacques Ibert’s “brilliant and outrageous” Divertissement suite, which was largely written for a 1928 film called Le chapeau de paille d’Italie (The Italian Straw Hat).

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, a raucous cancan and many other easily identifiable snippets are woven into this score for a film based on a play about a horse eating a lady’s hat. “There’s even Keystone Cops music — it’s really fun,” said Lapalme, who believes listeners will be bombarded with stimulating imagery from this colourful suite.

On the more serious side, guest harpsichordist Neil Cockburn, will perform two concertos at the Red Deer College Arts Centre that were influenced by the divine.

A terse and elusive 13-minute harpsichord composition by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla Y Matheu took three years to complete in the 1920s. Lapalme believes it evokes the mysticism of Catholic Spain, and showcases de Falla’s growing religious devotion. The piece is a throwback to the 18th century, as de Falla, later in life, consciously avoided folkloric Andalusian flourishes in order to “purify” the sound.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord in G Minor was also inspired by faith — which was generally where the composer found his muse. Bach believed that the goal of all music should be to glorify God and to refresh the soul. This dynamic concerto, a version of a Bach violin concerto, has likely achieved both objectives, as it has become an audience favourite and one of the composer’s most performed keyboard concerto.

Guest soloist Cockburn studied the harpsichord in his native England before relocating to Canada six years ago. The Calgary resident, who attended Oxford University and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, now teaches at Mount Royal College and is working on a PhD in Musicology at the University of Calgary, with a focus on 17th-century French organ music.

The opening piece on the program — Ottorino Respighi’s Trittico Botticellino ­­­— is also the most onerous, at least for woodwind players, said Lapalme.

The 18-minute work in three movements was inspired by three Botticelli paintings: Primavera (Spring), The Adoration of the Magi and The Birth of Venus.

While commissioned in 1927, the piece was written in a neo-classical style, so sounds antiquated, like much of Respighi’s music.

It starts out being “crystalline and bright-sounding,” then becomes more mysterious and rapt, and finally is reminiscent of ocean waves. “It’s a piece that’s not performed often enough,” said Lapalme — probably because of the difficulty. “There are two bars that are almost impossible to play.”


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