Monday, February 11, 2013

Roanoke Symphony celebrates strings

Tonight's performance

  • When: 8 p.m.
  • Where: Jefferson Center
  • Info: Call the box office at 343-9127 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to see if tickets still are available.

On Sunday afternoon, the Roanoke Symphony, under Maestro David Stewart Wiley, played in Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center to a virtually sold-out house. The afternoon was considerably brightened by the artistry and musicianship of Akemi Takayama, the concertmaster of the orchestra, who was featured as soloist in works by Beethoven and Vivaldi.

Altogether, it was a celebration of the great string section of the symphony and of the baroque and classical periods. Wiley presided over some of the afternoon as a basso continuo player at the harpsichord.

The concert began with the popular Pachelbel "Canon in D."Here the streamlined orchestra gave a transparent and expressive account, well-shaped and moving inexorably forward to a satisfying end.

This was followed by the lesser-known "Battaglia" of the baroque composer Heinrich Biber. The ensemble reveled in the humor and surprisingly modern techniques and effects required by the composer. At one point, the polytonal effects caused Wiley and several players to look questioningly at the scores in front of them, sparking some spontaneous laughter from the audience.

Takayama then played ravishingly as violin soloist in Beethoven's Romance No. 1 in G. From her opening unaccompanied theme to the quiet conclusion, she displayed a thorough command of her instrument and a complete understanding of the elegance in Beethoven's early period classical style.

To close off the first half of the program, Wiley conducted a lively performance of the Symphony No. 1 by the precocious 8-year-old Mozart. The outer fast movements moved with precision, marred only by a few French horn misses. The second movement lacked the plaintive oboes in the original, here replaced by the more delicate and expertly played flutes of Alycia Hugo and Julee Hickcox.

The highlight of the concert was a complete performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the second half. Before each concerto, Wiley dramatically recited the sonnet that inspired it. Takayama once again showed what a consummate artist she is, moving from virtuosic scales, arpeggios, double stops and tremolos to the warmer and lyrical passages with masterful ease. The orchestra gave wonderful support throughout, especially Kelley Mikkelsen as a reliable cello continuo and Wiley as an enthusiastic and dynamic player on the keyboard. At the end of the performance, the crowd in the hall jumped to its feet for a rousing standing ovation.

Timothy Gaylard is a professor of music at Washington and Lee University.

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