The Toledo Symphony on Friday night ushered in the month with a springlike program of French and German music chosen with care and cleverness. Stepping up as guest conductor to lead works by Ravel, Mozart, and Beethoven was the very accomplished and clearly inspirational Jacques Lacombe.
Lacombe elicited exceptional playing from the strings which, though reduced in number, managed to fill the Peristyle with rich sonorities. He also understood and fostered the ample talent in the symphony’s wind sections.
Overall, under Lacombe, the orchestra sounded centered, confident, and wonderfully subtle.
Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau du Couperin is a 20th century tribute to one of France’s early masters, Francois Couperin. Constructed like a suite of dance forms so popular in the 18th century courts where the earlier composer was in demand, it became much more than that.
While each section began with the simple, repeated rhythmic forms a la Couperin, Ravel’s own vision and distinctive style bubbled up from within, yielding witty textures and colors in this lively and engaging work.
The Ravel was the opener and it wonderfully set up Mozart’s elegant Clarinet Concerto, performed by Georg Klaas, the Toledo Symphony’s principal. In a program of three strong numbers, the Mozart still stacked up a bit higher, both for the brilliant writing and the exquisite performance.
From start to finish, it was a complex partnership requiring virtuosity — Klaas had it to spare — and outstanding musicianship. Klaas played with elan and masterful technique, sometimes sending cascades of runs into the hall, in others drawing listeners toward his final delicate cadences.
Under Lacombe, the orchestra aided and abetted, providing a clear and sensitive musical matrix through which the solo line danced.
Finally, the Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral) seemed to pull together the elements of both preceding numbers. A groundbreaking work for the composer, this symphony is a really a tone poem in five movements. It tells a story musically, from the opening Allegro’s carefree rollick to the final sanguine resolution of the fifth movement.
But in between, there is dancing and a violent storm, depicted not in the massive style of composers who followed Beethoven, but with focused expression by a smaller orchestra. In the opening movement, the cellos and basses poured it on impressively. Throughout the work all the strings spoke most expressively.
Lacombe’s tempos were judicious and enhanced the clarity, impeccable rhythms, and overall unity which made this evening one to remember.
This concert, a memorial event in honor of Caroline Jobst Reimann, repeats at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets are $22-52 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.