Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite is a film score originally composed in 1938. It’s a piece with many contrasts, yet the recurring melodies and catchy rhythms make it a joy to hear. The first movement was introduced by Laura Gilroy on cornet, hidden in the wings of the concert hall, after which the percussion and flutes took over. There is a (perhaps misleading) lightness to the first moments of the piece, which the orchestra played playfully and gently. This created a beautiful contrast with the melancholy of the second movement, “Romance”, in which the main melody was played by several soloists from the orchestra – especially memorable were the contributions of Jim Vanderspar on bass and Daan van Koppen on saxophone. With an unmistakable melody that is hard to forget, the “Romance” was one of the highlights of the RCM Philharmonic’s performance, though it was the final, fifth movement that particularly impressed.

RCM Philharmonic Orchestra
RCM Philharmonic Orchestra

The tumultuous energy of the fifth movement suited the orchestra well, as the musicians dived into it head first. It almost sounded as if they had needed the first four movements to truly commit to the piece – everything came together and despite the difficulties of the movement, their performance was spot on. Earlier in the performance some of the harmonies were sloppy and the brass were patchy at times, seeming almost overwhelmed. Throughout their performance, however, the RCM Philharmonic’s timing was perfect and some of the soloists were remarkable.

Antonín Dvořák’s wrote his short orchestral work The Noon Witch in 1896. Lacking the bombast and perhaps appeal of some of his symphonies, it is nonetheless a piece worth listening to. The RCM Philharmonic seemed somehow more comfortable with this piece than they had with the Prokofiev, which was particularly noticeable in the harmonies. The strings played with conviction and lead the orchestra into a solid performance.

Dvořák’s Symphony no. 8 is a popular piece in the repertoire, but a good performance can make it sound refreshing and absolutely exhilarating. This is exactly what the RCM Philharmonic did; the symphony was as energetic and haunting as it should be, with never a moment of complacency or sloppiness. The brass section of the orchestra seemed to have recovered from the Prokofiev and was on fine form, which is always a necessity for Dvořák’s symphonies. The opening notes on the cellos were moving and convincing from the get-go, and the performance never lost its spark. Throughout the first and second movements I was captivated and impressed by the ease and conviction the orchestra played with.

They fully embraced the Scherzo’s dance-like melodies, but again it was the final movement that became the highlight of the performance. It’s the kind of movement that has it all, from soft melodies in the cellos to tempestuous brass sections, to extreme highs and lows. In these movements it’s important for the orchestra not to lose focus and to allow the listener to be swept away by the music while still maintaining a tight performance. The RCM Philharmonic did this brilliantly, which made the finale of the symphony all the more powerful and the ensuing enthusiastic applause more than deserved.

***11