"Fantastique!" was the billing provided by the Raleigh Civic Symphony for their ambitious Sunday afternoon program, presented in Stewart Theater at NC State University. It proved to be well-named. Love was the theme of the afternoon, but the featured "love" was of a most dark and sinister nature.
Conductor Randolph Foy provided vigorous and disciplined leadership throughout. He set the tone leading off with Dvorák's "Othello" Overture, a piece that does not bring to mind his more popular pastoral works. Here, the players served up the violence of Shakespeare's Moor as if being egged on by the treacherous Iago himself.
Busoni's compositions are probably much less familiar than his arrangements of the works of others. Three selections from his Turandot Suite brought the program to intermission. One recalls here the gore associated with the Turandot story. The central selection describes the "Turandot – March." Busoni's imaginative orchestration of this segment seemed on a par with that of Berlioz. The players sounded at their most disciplined on this piece also, particularly in the lines that featured the horns.
After intermission came the "magnum opus" of the afternoon, the aforementioned composer Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The story here is relatively well known: The artist is fatally smitten with love for an unattainable woman. In a drug-induced stupor, he experiences visions of his execution for the murder of his beloved and then a subsequent procession of ghouls, sorcerers, and monsters.
The symphony is of an unusual five movements, of which numbers II and III were not included in the program. "March to the Scaffold" emphasized the spirit of the day, a march that was "sometimes somber and fierce, and sometimes brilliant and solemn," to quote from the splendid program notes. (These notes, however complete and helpful, were sometimes given redundant oral enhancement.) The "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" was fiery and presented the requisite grotesqueries.
The conductor and the players acquitted themselves totally in these enjoyable works. It bodes well for the future of "good" music to see such talent and enthusiasm among young and amateur players. One might have feared at first that these offerings were overly ambitious, but they proved to be ideal vehicles for the group.