Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: Richmond Symphony

Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
April 30, Randolph-Macon College

Chia-Hsuan Lin, the Richmond Symphony’s associate conductor, made the most of a rare opportunity to conduct the orchestra in a classical program in this season’s final Metro Collection concert in Ashland.

Lin, whose primary work with the symphony is conducting lighter fare in Pops and LolliPops concerts and directing the symphony’s Young Performers Program, crafted a performance of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony (No. 41 in C major, K. 551) on a grander scale than might have been expected from a chamber orchestra, and led a superbly detailed reading of Stravinsky’s “Danses concertantes.”

“Danses concertantes,” the first work that Stravinsky produced after moving to the US in 1939, is structured like the dance suites of the baroque period, but couched in the neo-classical style that he developed and that subsequently became a common language of mid-20th century music.

The piece is relatively easy listening, but far from easy playing, full of off-kilter and overlapping rhythms, unexpected harmonic twists, tricky instrumental balances and, with its spare instrumentation, no place to hide for musicians who aren’t fully on their game.

Lin’s treatment of the piece nicely balanced its melding of antique spirit and modern style, and brought out the many intricacies of Stravinsky’s orchestration. The musicians, paced by clarinetist Eric Anderson, flutist Jennifer Debiec Lawson and oboist Shawn Welk, played with refinement and exuberance.

A larger ensemble played the Mozart symphony and a bit of rarely heard Beethoven, the Overture to his ballet score “The Creatures of Prometheus,” emphatically but without the thick, sonically tubby quality that’s often the consequence of such an approach.

The Mozart, which can sound repetitious and formulaic in a routine performance, here sounded energized and intent on scaling an expressive height.

The program opened with “The Entrance of the Queen of Sheba” from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon,” a speedy, uncharacteristically unceremonial number that always makes me wonder whether Handel imagined the queen making her entrance fleeing a swarm of bees. Oboists Welk and Alexandra von der Embse stylishly led a suitably skittish romp through the piece.

Before the concert, David Fisk, the symphony’s executive director, was presented with the Award for Achievement in the Arts from the Arts Council of Randolph-Macon College.