Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Symphony Summer Series

Schuyler Slack, cello
David Fisk, piano
Gottwald Playhouse, Dominion Arts Center

Works by Frank Bridge, speaking in radically different musical voices on either side of the divide of World War I, framed the third program of the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, this year focusing on late-romantic and modern chamber works from Britain.

Schuyler Slack, who joined the symphony’s cello section in 2015, and pianist David Fisk, the orchestra’s English-born executive director, gave affectionate but not treacly readings of Bridge’s “Four Pieces” (1900-10), paced by a lightly swaggering treatment of the set’s Serenade.

The two musicians turned sternly emphatic in Bridge’s Cello Sonata in D minor, as troubling an echo of wartime trauma as any chamber work written during the First World War. Slack and Fisk held little back in expression or volume. It was a compelling performance of a turbulent but uneven and episodic piece.

The program’s two central offerings, Arnold Bax’s “Folk Tale” and Frederick Delius’ Romance for cello and piano, sampled two dialects of the British impressionistic/pastoral style.

Bax’s folk tale is Irish and epic (“think big giants,” Fisk advised the audience) and richly atmospheric – remarkably so, coming from two instruments, even if one is has the tonal and expressive depth of the cello.

Delius’ Romance typifies his open-textured, French-accented style. Fisk and Slack made unusually lively discourse of the Bax, and captured the urbane and emotionally ambivalent tones of voice that Delius gave this unusual romance.