Colorful Civic Orchestra program provides Constant pleasure

Tue Apr 06, 2010 at 9:40 pm

By Bryant Manning

Cliff Colnot led the Civic Orchestra in music of Mendelssohn, Stravinsky and Ravel Monday night at Orchestra Hall..

On paper, Monday night’s concert by the Civic Orchestra was a sober slate of Mendelssohn, Stravinsky and Ravel. But like a palimpsest, the name of the lesser-known Romanian-born French composer Marius Constant emerged legible just underneath.

Marius Constant

Best known for writing one of American television’s most identifiable television jingles, The Twilight Zone theme, Constant also orchestrated Ravel’s fantastically difficult piano suite Gaspard de la nuit, in which the Civic, as principal conductor Cliff Colnot announced beforehand, would introduce to Orchestra Hall audiences for the very first time.

More amazing is that Constant had not orchestrated the music until 1988, almost 80 years after Gaspard was first published for piano in 1909. For those familiar with this oft-butchered keyboard triptych (Ondine, Le Gibet and Scarbo) based loosely on the weird tales of Aloysius Bertrand, a reasonable translation to large ensemble is daunting. As the program notes mentioned, a “virtuoso ensemble” is required, and here the Civic members, who are training musicians for the CSO, more than served up the goods.

It helped to have Colnot back after a band of guest conductors yielded mixed results earlier this year. The dreamy, fluttering personality of Ondine was imaginatively shaped with style to spare, and Le Gibet, with its solemn toll of bells, calmly evoked Goethe’s harrowing verse of the same name. Scarbo, however, was the real romp and the orchestra seemed poised to make this music its calling card. Whether anyone emerged from the hall remembering Constant’s name is another matter, but this is an important contribution to the orchestral repertoire and should be brought back to Chicago soon.

Prior to this, another virtuosic showcase for the Civic was provided with the exuberant and colorful Song of the Nightingale, which has to be one of Stravinsky’s funniest scores. Abundant trombone glissandos, triangles ringing amok like alarm clocks and funky bassoon duos approximated some nameless, exotic language of the far East. Cropped from acts 2 and 3 of his opera The Nightingale, this symphonic poem version is a vivid tribute to the imperious spirit of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. Here Colnot played the part of a wise storyteller.

D. Kyle Upton was the magnificent solo trumpeter, rendering some of Stravinsky’s surprising lyrical passages with guarded sensitivity. Flutist Jeong-Hyung Kim carried her section with aplomb, and various percussionists and keyboardists deftly provided the music’s ringing embroidery.

Opening the concert was Mendelssohn’s precocious Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, played here with full-blooded lust and mysterious charm. For a concert that lasted a little over an hour, this was a night that far exceeded its already large expectations.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Colorful Civic Orchestra program provides Constant pleasure”

  1. Posted Apr 08, 2010 at 9:25 am by Joy Hammer

    We went, we heard, we loved it.

Leave a Comment