Ooh-lala, Friday night's Classics VIII concert by the Toledo Symphony was a tour de force of French music, a savory sampler of 19th-century Gallic hits — with a soupcon of dramatic Czech energy to blast it off.
Led with exceptional finesse by guest conductor James Feddeck, the evening in the Peristyle presented the orchestra in an exceedingly fine light.
Oh, did we forget the most delicious element of all: pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton?
In their very successful local debut, the twin phenoms razzled in performances of Saint-Saens' witty Carnival of the Animals, and they dazzled in the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos.
Performing on two Steinway pianos facing each other — Christina in teal green; Michelle in lighter jade — they mutually infused the Saint-Saens with a gleeful insouciance that almost, but not quite, obscured their spot-on performances.
Rarely performed with two pianos, Carnival sparkled musically; the symphony played brilliantly.
Equal to the music was the skilled reading of John Lithgow's fanciful narrative by Toledo Zoo director Jeff Sailer. (Yes, the program listed the “animals” out of actual performance order but, really, how much did that matter?)
The work drew the first of three standing ovations for the evening. The next came after Poulenc’s lively and varied Concerto for Two Pianos, also given a splendid performance by all on stage. Blending styles from Mozart's Classical era to the eclectic quality of the 1930s, Poulenc revealed his own musical and personal growth.
About the Naughtons: Do not be fooled by their fey, slightly campy approach to performance. These are some heavy-duty artists who mean to make their mark in the duo piano world.
Still, for music lovers, the money work of the evening was the Franck, the French organist-composer's only symphony.
Given a magnificently contoured and balanced reading by Feddeck, it explored musical forms including fugue and theme and variations with maximum dynamic impact through all three movements.
And not to forget the opener: Smetana's Sarka from his huge collection of tone poems, Ma Vlast. While the other sections in this masterwork explore the landscape, Sarka tells a tale of the fierce warrior woman who, spurned by a lover, figures out a clever and, perhaps, appropriate way to get her revenge. Here too Feddeck brought to the fore the symphony's strengths and painted a colorful musical image of the triumph of feminine wiles over male aggression.
At first, its inclusion in the program seemed jarring, until I learned that it was in fact a teaser for next season, when the entire wonderful work will be performed.
Soloists deserving of one more round of applause, in the Franck and elsewhere, include clarinetist Georg Klaas, horn Sandra Clark, trumpet Lauraine Carpenter, cellist Martha Reikow, and English horn Kristin Reynolds.
The concert will repeat at 8 p.m. today. Tickets are $22-55 at toledosymphony.com or 419-246-8000.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.