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Gorgeous and haunting music from the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra

There's an extraordinary spark about the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra, an ability to give new life and character to extremely well known pieces, while infusing everything they perform even the more reflective movements and works with a distinctive vivacity.

It's difficult to find out very much about this French group of musicians, other than to learn that they perform throughout the world and were established more than half a century ago.

It does seem that their partnership with the conductor José Serebrier is an extremely happy one.

The clear empathy and quick understanding between the musicians and their leader gave the interpretative aspects of the performance an organic flavour in what was otherwise an extremely disciplined approach absolutely strict timing was their hallmark, and Mr Serebrier quickened the pace of many of the pieces, the result of which was a bright and exhilarating evening of music at the Bermuda Festival on Friday evening.

The Concert began with the very famous 'Air', from Suite No 3 by JS Bach. How many brides have walked down the aisle to this lovely and pensive melody? Mr Serebrier and the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra infused it with sweetness and a lively tempo, emphasising the down beat to provide a syncopated effect, freshening this well-loved, but certainly, it must be admitted, slightly worn work.

A lesser-known piece by a slightly lesser known Bach, CPE Bach benefited from this approach: crisp timing and combined with intricate phrasing as the magic touch, brought to life a work that straddles the Baroque and Classical periods.

Mozart's gorgeous and fully classical 'Divertimento in D Major' sparkled as it should, but more than that, the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra infused it with a joie de vivre that was in a class of its own.

Bright and beautifully accented, the familiar final movement, Allegretto, scooted along in the most delightful manner.

Pianist John Constable joined the Chamber Orchestra to perform 'Concertino for Piano and Orchestra' by the early 20th century composer Walter Leigh.

A modern work, and reflective of the industrial and warring age this Englishman found himself in, it is at times brittle and at others, reflective, sombre and ultimately combative.

The strings surrendered centre stage to this extremely fine pianist, often confining themselves to enhancing his part, but also effectively raising their profile when the piece called upon them to converse with the pianist.

Tchaikovsky in his more sombre moods was the focus of the beginning of the second half with three pieces, the first of which allowed us to learn something about the talents of the conductor as the Chamber Orchestra performed his version of the composer's 'Andante Cantibile'.

This work is described in the programme as “highly expressive” and it was that, and wistful as well.

Then, too, Arensky's 'Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky', taken from the slow movement of 'String Quartet No 2, Op. 35', is characteristically heart-rending in all of its myriad variants.

Tchaikovsky's own 'Elegy' is another wistful and beautiful lament, fulsomely mournful in the hands of the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra.

While the programme departed Russia for Spain it was for another reflection on spirituality and death, Turina's 'La Oracion del Torero' the bull fighter's prayer and the piece for which Turina is best known.

This is Impressionism at its best with the sense of prayer never very far away, yet with a haunting meditation on the coming bull fight in all its drama and excitement, the life and death of this sport being so innately Spanish and it was all there, at once a pensive yet highly coloured rendering of the mind of the matador.

Bartok, another Russian composer who was composing at about the same time as Turina, struggled with the authoritarianism of the early Soviet Union, and so left his homeland for safer shores.

He is more well known for his 'Rumanian Dances' reflecting rich nationalism through the folk music of this Soviet satellite nation.

There is nothing quite like hearing these in person no recording can do them justice. They are meant to beautiful and they were exactly that, gorgeous and haunting renderings of a land left behind.

This was an evening of sumptuous music that was technically extremely impressive, with a programme that allowed the audience to contrast work from the Baroque and early Classical period, and then ponder on the challenges posed by the secular and spiritual during the upheaval of the Impressionist period.

There was much to ponder, and everything to enjoy at this performance of the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra.

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Published February 21, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 21, 2012 at 7:55 am)

Gorgeous and haunting music from the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra

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