Members of the Sociétié des Amis de Fauré have had a very good season thus far, with performances of piano music by Nelita True in Chapel Hill and of chamber music in Raleigh and Durham, and it is a pleasure to report that the capital was also the place to be on the afternoon of November 13, when the Raleigh Civic Symphony Orchestra essayed the French master's magnificent Pelléas et Mélisande Suite. For one of the great miniaturists – a composer whose songs, like Hugo Wolf's, are tiny worlds unto themselves – this Suite is a fairly substantial composition. It's based on incidental music for the Maeterlinck play, with an added Sicilienne; sometimes (as in Michele Plasson's Lp set of the complete orchestral works) a song – Mélisande's Song – is added to the mix. In Stewart Theatre, the RCSO played the standard four movements, and the musicians gave an amazing performance, projecting considerable emotion within a masterfully secure context, technically. There was atmosphere aplenty as the brief segments unfolded, and only a stone could have failed to be moved by the experience.
The concert, the theme of which was "Fate and Destiny," opened with one of the most fateful curtain-raisers in captivity, the Overture to Verdi's La Forza del destino. This opera happens to have been written for St. Petersburg, so the program embraced another recurring theme of the current season by exploring the links – real or perceived – between Russian and French music. The playing in the Verdi was not up to snuff, alas, and it's this writer's view that the reason lay in the often sluggish and (at times) erratic tempi – sometimes it's best to move things along, as many operatic maestri seem to do with this great potboiler.
The second half was devoted to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, a certified warhorse for sure, but one that retains its popularity for a reason, that merits frequent performances (especially when young people are among the ranks of the executants), and that rewards repeated listenings. A movement of this Symphony was heard during the recent celebration of the 80th anniversary of NCSU's Music Department, and with a few exceptions the players had it nicely under their fingers. The oboist had a consistently bad afternoon, but other solos were handsomely realized, the brass was generally mild-mannered (where it really mattered...), and the piece worked its customary magic, keeping the audience engaged and inspiring a warm ovation when it ended.
Concerts given under the auspices of the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association are often programmatic delights in our regional landscape, they are invariably enhanced as educational experiences by astute remarks and scholarly program notes by Music Director Randolph Foy, and attendance is picking up, which is a very good thing. (There was indeed so much pre-concert business at the box office that the start of this concert was delayed.) The RCSA's programs continue on 11/20 with a concert at Centennial Campus Middle School, a new venue for the orchestras – the RCSO and the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra – both of which may be heard then. See our calendar for details.