Friday, May 2, 2014

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
with Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
May 1, Richmond CenterStage

The Richmond Symphony’s final Rush Hour concert of the season played to a sparser-than-usual turnout, probably the result of worries about traffic in downtown Richmond ahead of the weekend’s cycling extravaganza, also maybe reflecting the audience diminution that typically hits indoor classical events when warm weather arrives. (Here, as elsewhere, a so-so concert in the fall, like as not, will outdraw a blockbuster in the spring.)

Lack of musical appeal shouldn’t have been a factor. Music Director Steven Smith led a program of French music, repertory in which he and the symphony consistently click. And the orchestra’s concertmaster, Daisuke Yamamoto, was featured in two of the most popular violin showpieces, the “Tzigane” of Maurice Ravel and the “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso” of Camille Saint-Saëns.

Both are primary sources for some of the most spectacular effects in the violin virtuoso’s bag of tricks. Ravel’s gypsy fantasy is wildly colorful, swooningly rhetorical and packed with technical razzle-dazzle, most of which Yamamoto produced with flair and not too much visible or audible effort. His comfort level and fluency seemed greater in the Saint-Saëns, which is also flashy but more elegantly playful and less volatile in its expressiveness.

Framing the fiddle fireworks were two suites, “Masques et Bergamasques” by Gabriel Fauré (excerpted in this one-hour casual concert) and Ravel’s familiar “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” In both, Smith and the chamber orchestra nicely balanced distinctively French color and dynamic nuance with the antique, quasi-baroque structure and stance of the suites.

The woodwind section, paced by oboist Gustav Highstein, English horn player Shawn Welk and bassoonist Thomas Schneider, paced the performance of “Tombeau.” Harpist Lynette Wardle contributed both color and rhythmic underpinning in both Ravel selections. String sound was well-differentiated between romantic warmth in the Fauré and more pointed articulation in the Ravel suite.

Spoken introductions by Smith and Yamamoto were personable and pertinent.

The program repeats, with Fauré’s “Masques et Bergamasques” played in full, at 3 p.m. May 4 at Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, 205 Henry St. in Ashland. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);