Courtesy of John Gilchrist, CBC Radio Restaurant Critic, author of the newly released My Favourite Restaurants: Calgary, Canmore and beyond, 8th Edition. Available in all book stores.
I remember an old Rockford Files (or was it Magnum PI?) episode where James Garner (or was it Tom Selleck?) turns to his cohort and says he likes a little Respighi with a glass of wine. His less erudite friend agrees, saying he particularly likes his Respighi with a nice cream sauce.
So with that image firmly planted in my mind, I attended the Calgary Philharmonic’s tasty evening of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, liberally seasoned with a fine dose of Rossini.
With food on my mind, I looked at the evening’s program as a menu of Italian dishes set as a full-bodied, eight-course meal. Alternating between four of Rossini’s opera overtures and Vivaldi’s seasons, it provided contrast, texture and depth as well as some high-quality musicianship and conducting.Launching the evening was an amuse bouche of Rossini’s overture to The Siege of Corinth, delicately opening our palates. Light and lively, it danced on our eardrums with a light Mediterranean tone, cleanly and simply presented. A fine start.
Then on to the antipasti of Vivaldi’s Spring, a familiar piece enlivened like a silky goat cheese and tomato salad tossed with balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs. The clarity of the strings was as refreshing as a glass of Prosecco.Up next was the pasta course, Rossini’s overture to Il Signor Bruschino. Strident and witty with the strings tapping their music stands in rhythm, the music sets the tone for the farcical opera meant to follow, much like a like mushroom ravioli satisfies and tempts at the same time, leaving you wanting more.Then on to Summer, the primi course. We felt the heat of Vivaldi’s sun sizzling and the ensuing thunderstorm rolling in behind it like a fine cioppino of fresh seafood layered with mysterious wallops of spice.After a brief break, Vivaldi also provided a sumptuous secondi: Autumn, the harvest of the fields and the indulgence of new wine. Finishing with an enthusiastic hunt, it was a rich course, like a wild boar chop on fresh fall vegetables served with a silky Barolo. Rich but not excessive.Because Rossini rolled back again with the formaggi course of L’Italiana in Algeri, leading with pizzicato basses like a mild scamorza then building quickly to robust surprises like a sharp gorgonzola. Intricate strings take us on a trip to the streets of Algiers to sample figs and exotic spices.
Then the dolce, a cool dessert of Vivaldi’s Winter. But, after sliding on the ice and enduring the chill rain, winter’s sorbetto is warmed by a seat near the fire and a sweet glass of Vin Santo. The seasons have come full circle.
But the evening is not over yet. We finish with a rich espresso demitasse of Rossini’s overture to William Tell, this time including the full orchestra to complete the brass and percussion requirements. It’s a workout for conductor/chef Alastair Willis, one of the more entertaining conductors we’ve seen. He coaxes every nuance and flavour from his orchestra, leaving nothing in the dressing room or the kitchen tonight.
We leave fully satiated, having dined delightfully on eight courses of beautifully played and plated Vivaldi and Rossini. And we didn’t need a cream sauce at all.
John Gilchrist, author of the newly released My Favourite Restaurants: Calgary, Canmore and beyond, 8th Edition