Soundings: by John Shulson
(An excerpt from “Gentle and then Flux” first printed in the Virginia Gazette)
The Williamsburg Symphonia, under Janna Hymes, in the Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins in D Major, Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E Major, and Mendelssohn Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Piano, and Strings, in the Kimball Theatre, April 18.
Appropriate to the general gist of the season, the Williamsburg Symphonia’s Spring string program was gentle and sunny. The all-string fare was a chance for the strings to shine, which they did with much radiance.
The evening’s focal point was the closing Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Piano and Strings of Mendelssohn. Essentially forgotten until resurfacing some 50 or so years ago, the Concerto is a wonderful, mature piece of music, most especially notable since he was a teenager when he wrote it. Mendelssohn’s ability to artfully cast the violin, piano, and string orchestra as full partners in musical dialogue speaks to his craft and talent. Often overshadowed as a prodigy by Mozart, this Concerto easily stands equally with the young Mozart’s best and deserves a greater hearing.
Although written in the minor mode, the piece is rather warm and beautiful, most especially the Adagio with its elegant, delicate lines. Violin soloist and concertmaster Akemi Takayama, guest pianist Christine Niehaus, and the orchestra brought heightened degrees of appropriately placed drama, lyricism, and technical prowess to the work. The musical dialogue created among the three was well conceived, each partner playing solo and supportive roles with collaborative concern. Other than a bit of occasional imbalance between the piano and the violin, the performance was memorable and musical.
The evening opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in D Major. Featuring four members of the orchestra who normally play team roles rather than solo ones, Sonya Chung, Stacy Markowitz, Steve Hakel and Linda Anderson seemed comfortable in the spotlight and brought to the Vivaldi spirit and energy. The fare also included Dvorak’s popular Serenade for Strings in E Major, a work of charm and endless melody. It’s a feel-good piece that was delivered with gentleness, graciousness and gusto.
Although the fare lacked the sound color provided by woodwinds, percussion, and brass, it did, importantly, allow us to hear more closely what could be considered the heartbeat of the orchestra and, in this case, the beautiful Mendelssohn.
One more thing: to those who find it necessary to maintain commentary before, during, and after each piece, fine playing deserves fine listening, which is also a fine art.