The program led off with a brisk and colorful performance of Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, which was also played earlier this season by the visiting Boston Symphony under Ludovic Morlot. After this came one of the "big" works on the program, Saint-Saens's Piano Concerto No. 5, Egyptian. It has a fairly tenuous connection with Egypt and Egyptian music and only occasionally even attempts to evoke Middle Eastern music. It's not the best of the S-S's piano concertos, though I believe it was a late-night hearing of the piece on radio some years ago that sent me off to buy a set of the composer's piano concertos. That said, sometimes a girl just wants to have fun, and this concerto is plenty of fun. Yes, certain persons we know just can't stand the composer or this piece; I think I just like camp more than certain persons do. I also have absolutely no idea what led Jeff Dunn to write that the concerto is short on melodies. My girlfriend found the S-S fun too, and told me that she thought the Berlioz was a little cheesy! Sorry, Joshua!
Soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet played the heck out of it, with plenty of panache and quite a broad range of tone colors. Balances between the orchestra and soloist were superb; I'm not sure whether to
Next up was a genuine rarity, Albert Roussel's Symphonic Fragments from The Spider's Feast. I rather think almost everything by Roussel is a rarity in the US, but after hearing this piece, I'm going to run off and pick up a few CDs from Deneve's ongoing Roussel cycle on Naxos. It is absolutely gorgeous, a lush thing of gossamer and moonlight - and I practically jumped out of my seat when, out of the gossamer came a motif from Psycho. I guess Roussel got there first! The orchestra sounded especially great in this work.
Not that there was anything wrong in how they sounded in the Firebird suite, which I expect they can play more or less in their sleep. But it was a terrific performance, lush and forceful at the same time; graceful and tender in the Lullaby, majestic at the close. A big hand for Robert Ward's handling of the big theme in the last movement.