The Toledo Symphony rocked the Peristyle last night. With guest conductor Yoav Talmi at the helm, the orchestra sailed through a program as refreshing as an early spring breeze and as exciting as the best fireworks you've ever seen.
Still, hearing, not seeing, was believing in this first of two Classics VI concerts.
Who would believe that the symphony could sound so vital, so centered, so transparent after a mere three days of rehearsal with Talmi, who blew into town from his base in Quebec?
Who could imagine the crusty old Peristyle could sound so juicy?
In a program balancing contemporary, classical, and romantic styles, who'd have dreamed this orchestra could engage so fully in each work?
From the opener, Talmi's own witty confabulation of Mozart and more, "The Double Marriage of Figaro," to some essential Mozart, the Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat Major for Violin and Viola, to the amazing Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, the musicians were so involved musically that it even showed in their body language.
No, the playing wasn't perfect. There were disconnects in the Talmi piece, some little awkward moments - perhaps because some players weren't quite ready for the many quick shifts in tempo, tonality, and accent. Or maybe appreciating the cleverness of the writing - it is to the original Mozart score what Cubism was to realistic painting - overtook attention to details.
And in the Mozart Sinfonia, there were some awkward encounters as concertmaster Kirk Toth and principal viola Valentin Ragusitu traded passages in the opening movement. But overall, and thanks in part to supple and sensitive accompaniment by a reduced orchestra, the pair brought this marvelous work to life in glorious tonal color and respectful style.
Toth's refined violin playing was well balanced by the rich warmth of Ragusitu's viola sound. Their ensemble work was excellent, especially during the cadenzas written into two of the movements.
But the real thrill of the evening was the Berlioz, summoned body and soul through the articulate conducting of Talmi, who worked without a score.
The thrill was in watching the musicians dig in at Talmi's direction, producing lyrical soft passages that gave way in a second to hair-raising blasts of brass and percussion. There was no missing the delicious inner voices and imaginative colorings.
The late Leonard Bernstein called this Romantic work the first psychedelic composition, and its effect was so vivid one could almost imagine great veils of musical hues floating over the stage, sparkling with bursts of brilliant light.
It was simply far out. Let's hope it's not another five years before Talmi directs the Toledo Symphony again.
The concert will repeat at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets are $22-$47 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.
Contact Sally Vallongo at