Review: Richmond Symphony

Feb. 23, Kingsway Community Church, Midlothian

Of all the adjectives applied to classical music, “cheerful” generally ranks pretty low on the list. That says more about what classical musicians choose to program, and what their audiences choose to hear, than what composers have chosen to produce. Even the most serious of them have their sunny, witty side; and more a few than are remembered mainly for music of exuberance and good humor.

Steven Smith has built this weekend’s Richmond Symphony program around such music – a wildly diverse assortment of pieces, ranging from the second suite from Handel’s “Water Music” to Darius Milhaud’s evocation of a raucous nightclub, “Le boeuf sur le toit” (“The Bull on the Roof”) and excerpts from William Walton’s “Façade,” music written to accompany Edith Sitwell’s dada-esque poetry for what may have been the weirdest-ever after-dinner entertainment in an English country house.

The acoustics of Kingsway Community Church’s sanctuary favored winds, brass and percussion, and the placement of trumpeters Brian Strawley and Daniel Lewis and French horn players James Ferree and Roger Novak at floor level on either side of the orchestra gave their instruments extra prominence in the Handel. They exploited that sonic advantage with brilliant, expertly ornamented performances of their parts, stylishly seconded by the strings and woodwinds.

Winds and percussion were nearly as vivid a presence in the Milhaud, a ballet score driven by the frenetic dance rhythms of the Brazilian carnival and 1920s “hot” jazz, and in the satirized folk and ballroom dances of Walton’s “Façade” Suite No. 2.

The orchestra’s strings projected warmth in George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings,” a more overtly expressive cousin of Samuel Barber’s Adagio (the two pieces were written written with 10 years of each other), and captured the misty atmospherics of the central andante of Albert Roussel’s Concerto for small orchestra, Op. 34, a work from 1920s Paris that echoes composers, most audibly Debussy and Stravinsky, who had set the city’s musical tone in previous decades.

Schubert’s “Overture in the Italian Style,” D. 591, is a young composer’s game try at imitating the style of Rossini, whose operas were all the rage in early 19th-century Vienna. Smith and the band nicely balanced Schubert’s innate tunefulness with his not-quite-idiomatic overlay of Rossinian flourishes.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Feb. 25 at Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, 205 Henry St., Ashland. Tickets: $22. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

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