To help herald the Toledo Museum of Art’s splendid new major exhibition, Manet: Portraying Life, the Toledo Symphony last night devoted its second Classics concert to sounds from the same period in which Edouard Manet painted his portraits.
It was a clever and community-building impulse which yielded a program offering some welcome premieres plus a revisitation of one of France’s most iconic musical works — Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.
Whether Manet ever wandered into a concert in the northern Paris neighborhood where he and his fellow artists painted, wrote, and acted is less important than the enrichment gained listening to music from late 19th century Paris. Clearly creative ferment was in the Gallic air.
Had Manet entered a nearby church, he may well have heard music by Cesar Franck, the Belgian-born composer whose romantic and sonorous works are staples in classical repertoire today.
Joining the Symphony for its first playing of Franck’s lush Symphonic Variations was the wonderful local pianist, Frances Renzi.
Ever the consummate artist, as sensitive to musical color and shape of line as Manet was on canvas, Renzi announced the simple, four-note theme at the start of the seamless work and then brought it back, again and again, in different forms, harmonies, and embellishments.
She and the symphony, under the savvy leadership of principal conductor Stefan Sanderling, delivered a nuanced and intelligent reading for an enthusiastic, if small, audience.
The concert opened with a saucy performance of Emmanuel Chabrier’s Cuban-inspired Habanera, another symphony first.
But the evening’s real substance — as well as its dazzle — came in the second half, when Sanderling led the orchestra through a brilliant performance of the Berlioz. A symphony in form but a tone poem in substance, it makes a wonderful showcase for the most sensitive and exciting playing 80 musicians can produce.
Last night’s performance was all that. Sanderling played on the swirling themes, the compelling solos — especially woodwinds — and the thrilling impact a sudden wall of brass sound can produce.
You could almost feel the hairs rise on the necks of listeners as two — count’em, two — tubas thundered into the musical mix, particularly in the final movement “Dream of a Witches Sabbath.”
Sanderling elicited exceptional ensemble cooperation through all five movements, pulling from Toledo’s finest classical musicians a reading of such power, contrast, and rich texture the audience simply couldn’t stop cheering after the final chords.
The program will repeat at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets start at $25 at the door or at 419-246-8000.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: Svallongo@theblade.com.