Music for a Sunday afternoon

Ottawa Symphony Orchestra conductor David Currie

Ottawa Symphony Orchestra conductor David Currie (Courtesy photo)

Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

David Currie, conductor

Southam Hall, National Arts Centre

Reviewed: Monday at 8 p.m.

Wagner was one of the most important revolutionary figures in the history of music. Although his output was uneven, he created some of the most inspiring moments in opera. But some of his half hours are a little less inspiring. At the very least we can say that concision wasn’t among his virtues.

His massive four-opera epic Der Ring des Nimbelungen is a case in point. It tells a great story and has a lot of wonderful music in it, but it is 15 hours long. The Ottawa Symphony and its conductor, David Currie, had a solution Monday evening for those who can’t hack the entire Ring. It was a tone poem by Henk de Vileger crafted from excerpts and called The Ring of the Nibelungs — an orchestral adventure.

It’s a clever concoction. The excerpts from Wagner’s scores form a kind of Coles notes summary of the entire cycle. The piece gives a big orchestra a chance to strut its stuff and, as most Ottawa music lovers know, this orchestra has a lot to strut.

Wagner’s love of huge orchestras is respected in this pastiche. By my count there were 20 brass players on stage and a whole lot of every other kind of player. (Typically there are from four to nine brass instruments in the standard orchestra.)

All things considered, though, the performance was a mixed success. The dynamics were unsubtle much of the time and the brass tended to overbalance the strings. Perhaps the most serious shortcoming was a failure to maintain an enduring sense of narrative flow. There was a certain stodginess to some sections, most notably the Magic Fire Music.

Still, there was a lot to enjoy. The big numbers from Götterdämmerung were more pointed and generally effective.

While the Ring thing made up the bulk of the program, two other works were included. First came a nice reading of Weber’s very slight overture to a staged production of Turandot, written more than a century before Puccini would turn the story into an opera.

The other offering was Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber, one of the few of that composer’s works to be played with any regularity these days. The performance was suitably spirited and colourful.

There weren’t many people at the concert and it was little wonder. The driving conditions were atrocious. I came close to losing control of my car twice and could easily have been involved in an accident. But I made it and was able to enjoy a nice musical evening.

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