Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: Richmond Symphony

Marc Taddei conducting
Jan. 19, St. Michael Catholic Church

Marc Taddei, of the fourth of nine candidates auditioning to be the next music director of the Richmond Symphony, leaves behind two high-romantic calling cards from Masterworks series performances of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and the "Four Last Songs" of Richard Strauss.

Both works are products not of the 19th-century romantic age but of its afterlife in the early 20th century. The Strauss songs, completed in 1948, the composer’s last year, are overtly retrospective in their texts and their nostalgic musical style. The Rachmaninoff symphony, introduced in 1908, vividly echoes Tchaikovsky in its plush lyricism and dramatic orchestral gestures.

In the last of three performances of this program, Taddei, an American who in recent years has been conducting orchestras in New Zealand, interpreted the Rachmaninoff broadly, with moderate tempos and plenty of rubato in the big lyrical themes. His maintained fine balance between strings and winds, and left ample space for expressive solos by concertmaster Karen Johnson, clarinetist Ralph Skiano and other wind players.

In the Strauss, Taddei and the orchestra were joined by Melissa Citro, a soprano who sounds to be heading into a bright career singing Strauss and Wagner. Her tone is robust from top to bottom, and her phrasing is smooth. Her vocal color palette does not yet extend to some of the dark hues needed to fully express "September" and "Im Abendrot," the most ruminative of the "Four Last Songs;" but her treatment of the best-known of the four, "Beim Schlafengehen," was soulful and thrilling in its emotional climax.

Taddei obtained a richly expressive reading of Strauss’ orchestration, with Johnson, Skiano and French horn player Paul LaFollette contributing eloquent solos.