The centerpiece of this week's Minnesota Orchestra concerts is guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier's orchestration of the Ravel Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello. Scored for a very large orchestra, Tortelier's version is far from the chamber original.
His arrangement often captures the delicate and atmospheric quality of French Impressionism. But I miss the clarity and transparency of the original and the way Ravel manipulates the clash of sonorities between the strings and the more percussive piano.
Tortelier begins each movement delicately, with a passage for solo winds in the first and a solo xylophone in the second. But the orchestration frequently becomes dense and complex, a succession of orchestral gestures that too often sound just loud and noisy.
To his credit, Tortelier's version plays like a concerto for orchestra, each section getting its chance to solo, most uniquely the contrabasses at the opening of the third movement. The orchestra plays with commitment, making a strong case for it.
This "new" work is followed by one of the great orchestral warhorses, Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." It is not the staple that it once was, but its abundance of rich melodies, depicting four of the stories from "One Thousand and One Arabian Nights," will sound familiar to anyone with even a tangential relationship to classical music.
After the work garnered immense popularity, Rimsky-Korsakov disingenuously disavowed the strict programmatic content of the work, even though he named each of the movements. It begins with the dark, forceful theme of the angry Sultan for whom Scheherazade must weave her tales to keep her head. This is followed by the theme for Scheherazade herself. Acting Concertmaster Sarah Kwak effectively plays this theme that recurs throughout the work and brings it to a satisfying close.
Tortelier brings just the right energy to the piece, keeping it sensuous and romantic, while making the music seem fresh and new, not overly familiar. The orchestra ably conjures the magical fairy tale world of ancient Persia.
The concert opened with the overture to Hindemith's 1929 opera "Neues von Tage (News of the Day)." This satire of newsmen in search of the next sensational story sounds eerily contemporary, and the kaleidoscopic, jazz-influenced score, relying heavily on the woodwinds, makes me long to hear the entire opera.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about theater.