Music by some of France’s most colourful storytellers – Bizet, Faure and Berlioz – was brought to life by a Russian conductor and soloist in the WA Symphony Orchestra’s most recent concert. 
conductor Vladimir Verbitsky
On Friday night conductor laureate Vladimir Verbitsky delivered a version of Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No 1 coloured by bristling string playing interspersed with delicate saxophone and harp moments. In the Carillon movement Verbitsky’s unerring sense of line gave elegant shape to operatic melodies strung over plodding accompaniment.
One of Faure’s more harmonically progressive pieces, Suite from Pelleas et Melisande, had a bleak edge to it. The sweetness of the Sicilienne was a welcome respite between the pensive picture of Melisande at the spinning wheel and the melancholic Funeral March.
violist Maxim Rysanov
 An English interlude in the form of two movements from Vaughan Williams’ Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra introduced soloist Maxim Rysanov. The richness of his viola was immediately apparent: at the low end of the register a deep weeping sound, a mellow middle section and a honeyed top end.
Berlioz’s theatrical Harold in Italy continued the montage of French pictures. This ‘symphony with a principal viola part’ gives most of the theatrics to the orchestra, but Rysanov’s bold sound earned him prominence and he played with precision. Berlioz’s storytelling was masterful. The pilgrim’s hymn with answering horn calls faded to a magical hush and Verbitsky drove the Brigand’s Orgy with his typical fist-clenching fervour. Yet despite the rousing climaxes and consistently excellent playing across the night there was something missing. Perhaps it was the lack of meaty repertoire; the excess of pictorial works built into a vague incoherent collage. Or perhaps it was the lack of emotional connection; the predominantly clinical approach by Verbitsky and Rysanov ultimately lacked both Russian fire and French melodrama.  
This review copyright The West Australian 2014.