Consistency is its Mark

Soundings: by John Shulson

(First printed in the Virginia Gazette)

The Williamsburg Symphonia, under Janna Hymes, in the Satie “Gymnopedies” (orchestrated by Debussy), Prokofiev Sinfonietta, and Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 in A minor, in the Kimball Theatre, Oct. 31.

For nearly 50 years, I have had an association with the Williamsburg Symphonia, starting from my teenage days playing French horn with the Peninsula Symphony under Cary McMurran, through the organization’s merger into the regional Virginia Orchestra Association, which led to its ultimate demise, to its eventual rebirth as the Symphonia.  I’ve heard all the conductors; I’ve watched with interest all the changes.

For eight seasons, Janna Hymes has been at the helm and has fashioned the group into a solid music making organization.   Consistency of excellence is now the norm.  Yet, the past always seems to creep into my consciousness as her baton whips into action, and I keep thinking how remarkable the progress has been.  At this point in time, it should seem somewhat “old hat,” but it doesn’t.  I continue to be happily pleased with the Symphonia’s on-going sense of musical direction and accomplishment.

The season’s opening concert was continued evidence of its artistry.  The sound was balanced, unification of effort solidly in place, and response to Hymes’s stylish baton immediate.  Throughout the evening, attention to dynamics, phrasing, and musical nuances resulted in superb performances that found great appeal.

Certainly the sensitivity of touch to the opening “Gymnopedies” of Satie, with their meditative beauty and softness, was perfectly conceived.  And, the general good spirited nature of Prokofiev’s “Sinfonietta” was bright and chipper.

But, it was Mendelssohn’s “Scottish Symphony” that truly allowed the Symphonia’s full capabilities to show.  The piece reflects Mendelssohn’s sense of the spirit of Scotland through his reaction to country and its harsh landscapes, traditions, castles, and stormy weather. 

With the exception of second movement, which is somewhat sunny in disposition, its three remaining sections tend to be on the turbulent, melancholic, and gray side.  It’s a deeply reflective work that is filled with extended explorations of emotions, some quite agitated, others quite lyrical.  Hymes embraced the spirit of the piece, as did the Symphonia, both turning out a very rounded, musically astute, and smartly done performance.  In a thoughtful gesture, the orchestra applauded Hymes at its conclusion, before being coaxed to stand and take its well deserved applause.

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