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Salisbury Symphony is ‘Tres Magnifique’

The Salisbury Symphony opened its 2013 season Saturday night in Keppel Auditorium on the campus of Catawba College with an all French concert titled “Fantastique.”
The program offered the “Brass Fanfare” by Paul Dukas from his ballet “La Peri,” “the Violin Concerto No. 3” by Camille Saint-Saens with violinist Marjorie Bagley and the “Symphony Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz.
A fanfare usually announces a special occasion and this concert proved to be just that. The term fanfare even comes to us from the French language, so opening with the “Brass Fanfare” from the Ballet, “La Peri” (1911) by Paul Dukas was apropos.
The audience was engaged immediately with gleaming brasses lined up front stage. Conducting from about the third row amidst the audience, Hagy gave the audience a visual and sonic appetizer. Bright but not blaring, the brasses were unified in tone and ensemble.
The “Saint-Saens Concerto No. 3” (1880) is one of two compositions Saints-Saens wrote for violinist/composer Pablo de Sarasate whom he met at the Paris Conservatory. Violinist Marjorie Bagley, currently on the faculty of University of North Carolina at Greensboro, brought forth a lovely reading of this romantic treasure. Keppel Auditorium tends to dry out string performances, but Bagley consistently held her sweet tone above the winds to present the softer side of French. Particularly admirable was her fluid bow arm which epitomized the French elegance of La Belle Epoque.
The main course of the program was the episodic “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz. The composer provided his own program description for the five sections.
In the first section, “Daydreams, Passions” the string sections infused passion by bowing swells and peaks and lots of tremolo.
The second section is titled “A Ball.” Conductor Hagy crafted this gorgeous waltz with dynamic phrasing and built it into a delightful frenzy. By the end, his beat was spinning in a circle, evoking an infectious dizziness, and Berlioz’s fantasy was realized.
The third section, “Scene in the Countryside” was carried by the strings who brought back pastoral calm after a slightly wobbly English Horn introduction.
In the fourth section, “March to the Scaffold”, bassoons and percussion assisted in blazing a fiery trail to the brass’s fatal blows at the end.
The final section, “Dream of a Witches Sabbath” is a masterpiece of orchestrated fantasy.
For the players, this movement alone is a real workout, and fortunately they had the energy to finish the concert with passion and fervor.
Hagy and the Salisbury Symphony’s ability to bring Berlioz‘s wild images to vivid reality was tres fantastique.

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