Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: Richmond Symphony

Marc Taddei conducting
Jan. 16, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage

In his return tryout as one of the final three candidates for music director of the Richmond Symphony, Marc Taddei plays up the "wow" factor in an all-Russian program.

Well, an almost all-Russian program: Modest Mussorgsky composed "Pictures at an Exhibition" as a piano suite; Maurice Ravel’s orchestration, introduced in 1922 (41 years after Mussorgsky’s death), is more French than Russian in its tone-coloring and dynamic contouring, and bears little resemblance to the orchestral language of Mussorgsky (which Ravel probably never heard) or Rimsky-Korsakov (whose revisions of Mussorgsky’s scores were, and still are, more familiar).

In the first of two weekend performances, Taddei led a vividly colorful reading of "Pictures." Aside from a brisk, rather terse statement of the opening processional, the performance breathed and danced naturally. His well-judged pacing and sense of swing in dance rhythms also propelled performances of Prokofiev’s "Lieutenant Kijé" Suite and the "Polovtsian Dances" from Borodin’s "Prince Igor."

All three pieces owe their popularity to tonal brilliance and high-impact brassy, percussive and (in the Borodin) choral climaxes; and the conductor, orchestra and the Richmond Symphony Chorus didn’t skimp on the sonic thrills. But there are rewarding subtleties in the Prokofiev and Ravel’s orchestration, and Taddei made room for most of those finer details, especially contrasts of bright and dusky colors in "Pictures."

The orchestra’s solo voices – trumpeter Rolla Durham, double-bassist Paul Bedell, violist Molly Sharp, clarinetist Ralph Skiano and, especially, saxophonist Roland "Dusty" Dowdy – exploited these openings to excellent effect.

The chorus, with voice parts mixed rather than positioned separately, delivered a full-throated account of Borodin’s "Polovtsian Dance with Chorus." It lacked the bassy heft of an idiomatically Russian ensemble, but that probably was due to the brightened acoustic of the renovated Carpenter Theatre. The hall’s new sound also was the likely culprit in barely audible offstage solos by trumpeter Durham in the introduction of "Lieutenant Kijé."

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Carpenter Theatre. Tickets: $17-$72. Details: (800) 982-2787 (Ticketmaster);