Classical music review: exuberant ‘French Connection’ for Montclair Orchestra
By WILLIAM AMORY
For Montclair Local
Montclair Orchestra’s season finale concert at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 28, was exuberant, witty, and deeply felt. Titled the “French Connection,” the concert included music of giants of French composition Berlioz and Bizet, as well as music of Austrian great Haydn. Haydn was included because his Symphony Number 60 was composed for the French play “Le Distrait,” by Jean-François Regnard. Though the concert had been planned for a year, the tragic fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral inspired Montclair Orchestra to donate 10 percent of its ticket sales to the French Heritage Society, for the rebuilding of the iconic church.
Music Director David Chan conducted from memory, and brought to the very first movement of Haydn’s symphony “Il Distratto, or, The Absent-minded One,” a brilliance of playing. Each movement of the symphony had its high point: the second movement put me in mind of a lilting country dance; the third movement was a study in contrasts of legato and detached playing; the fourth was so exciting the audience began applauding when it ended; the fifth was gorgeously slow; and the sixth amused the audience as the music went off the rails — and the orchestra had to take some time with a re-tuning of their instruments.
That of course was all planned by Haydn.
The next piece was a rare treat: baritone Yunpeng Wang sang the six songs of Hector Berlioz’s song cycle “Les Nuits d’Été (Summer Nights),” using poems by Théophile Gautier. In the first piece, “Villanelle,” Wang captured the song’s romantic mood. “Le spectre de la rose (The Ghost of the Rose),” which followed, demanded wider variations of phrasing in its tale of a rose pinned to a woman’s dress at a ball. Wang sang with ardor, with an especially beautiful climax. Only In “Absence” did Wang seem a little sharp, spoiling the recurring rising line of “ma bien aimée” (my own beloved). The song cycle finished with “L’île inconnu (The Unknown Island),” a travelogue offered by an amorous man to a woman who responds that she only wants to find the place where there is faithful love. The man answers back, “My dear, that place is hardly known!”
It is hard to believe that Bizet composed his Symphony in C as a music student at the age of 17, in 1855. Montclair Orchestra played it incisively, with an extremely beautiful oboe solo played by Tamara Winston in in the Adagio movement.
Montclair is extremely fortunate to have the Montclair Orchestra in its midst, led by David Chan is a true Maestro, who leads and inspires his talented players to play to the highest standards.