Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: Richmond Symphony

Erin R. Freeman conducting
Oct. 3, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland

The Richmond Symphony opened its 2010-11 season of Metro Collection chamber-orchestra concerts in suburban venues with a pair of romantic serenades, Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor, Op. 44, for winds with cello and double-bass, and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C major, Op. 48, for string orchestra, preceded by a quasi-serenade, "Pastorale d’été" by the early 20th-century Swiss-French composer Arthur Honegger.

The symphony’s associate conductor, Erin R. Freeman, obtained mellow, sonorous performances, with a smallish string ensemble (6-6-4-4-2) sounding more plush than its numbers might promise in the Tchaikovsky and Honegger works. Occasionally flabby ensemble in the violins lent a bit of unwelcome wooziness to the first movement of the Tchaikovsky, but their playing firmed up in the rest of the piece.

The program’s highlight, though, was the Dvořák, a romantic echo of the Harmonie (wind-band) music popular in central Europe in the classical period. Oboist Gustav Highstein and clarinetist Ralph Skiano were brightly detailed yet lyrical solo voices in an ensemble that performed with animation, clarity and stylishness. Cellist Neal Cary’s fast-fingered elaboration on the bass line of the finale was an extra treat.

Freeman introduced the Honegger as a sound picture of "a perfect summer vacation." The composer's interlude in the Swiss Alps was a leisurely and laid-back affair, to judge from this performance, a pleasant reminder that vacations did not always buzz to the sounds of skateboards and outboard motors