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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fifty Million Frenchmen

From the Concert Hall Dept.: It’s always an impressive sight (though ever rarer) to see a large orchestra on the stage of the Troy Music Hall, never mind one playing to a full house, and this was a group that doesn’t pay to many visits to the United States – and it’s still going strong, still under the baton of Jean-Claude Casadesus.


THE MANY MEMBERS of the Orchestre National de Lille crowded themselves onto the small stage of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for a concert which did more than a dozen skilled ambassadors ever could to improve relations with France.

Orchestre National de Lille | Photo by Ugo Ponte
A French orchestra playing an all-French program so splendidly is a treat; it was eagerly savored by the full house Saturday night.

Offenbach’s overture to “Orpheus in the Underworld” has been lampooned by everyone from Spike Jones to Bugs Bunny, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the composer himself intended some japery about the piece. Under conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus, there was no lack of humor as the orchestra bubbled through this crowd pleaser.

Pianist Brigitte Engerer then came onstage to play Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. She wore a dress that wouldn’t look out of place on a singer with the Glenn Miller Orchestra: a black ensemble with a sequinned dickey, appropriate to the lighthearted mood of the concert.

This business of reckoning Saint-Saëns’s work as among the “lightweights” is a popular game practiced by pompous critics. Saint-Saëns has sinned against the establishment by having fun with his music and the second piano concerto exemplifies that; the pomp of the introduction, with its Bachian arpeggios, suddenly gives way to a Chopinesque barcarolle.

The composer was himself a crack pianist, and left us a work which makes great demands upon a soloist. It’s marvellous to watch a player take such sturdy command of an instrument as did Ms. Engerer. The second movement, a sparkling scherzo, seems fierce enough, but it’s followed by a wicked tarantella that prompted four curtain calls for the soloist.

Music of Bizet and Ravel was on the second half of the program, beginning with eight pieces from Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne.” Any faults in the brass and winds show up immediately in these pieces. But the orchestra, which is made up of players all around the age of 30, is as talented an ensemble as ever has come through here and no such faults were apparent.

Ravel’s “La Valse,” which brought the concert to a close, loosened the rafters as the percussion battery flexed its muscles. The quirky waltz was played as if Casadesus were trying to summon a troupe of ghostly dancers, which is exactly what Ravel seemed to have had in mind.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 6 November 1984

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