Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
with Melissa White, violin
Oct. 17, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Mozart’s compositions, especially those of his late teen-age and early adulthood, were long characterized as “porcelain figurine” music – attractively tuneful and finely crafted, but lacking depth or weight. His five violin concertos certainly can be played and heard that way. Even heavy applications of romantic-style string tone don’t substantially bulk them up, merely replacing porcelain with velvet cushions and silver tracery.

Melissa White, a founding member of the Harlem Quartet and solo violinist of rising prominence, coaxed both silver tone and lyrical substance from Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, in the second of the Richmond Symphony’s fall Masterworks programs, the first conducted by Valentina Peleggi, the orchestra’s new music director.

White and Peleggi were interpretively in synch in the Mozart, emphasizing lyricism and tonal richness even in the work’s most brilliant passages. This treatment was naturally most effective in the concerto’s adagio, but also amplified the enticingly sighing quality to the first movement and heightened the contrast of the finale’s minuet with its gutsy central minor-key dance (source of the concerto’s nickname, “Turkish”).

The violinist’s work in chamber music showed throughout the performance, in which she subtly graded tone and projection to blend with the accompanying strings of the orchestra. That made her big solo moments, especially the cadenzas, all the more prominent.

Peleggi framed the Mozart with two works for string orchestra, Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” Suite No. 3 and Dvořák’s Serenade in E major, Op. 22. In both, as in the Mozart, she adopted measured tempos and emphasized richness of tone and rhythmic fluidity. That approach was more suited to the Dvořák, a romantic masterpiece, than to the Respighi, a neo-classically accented updating of Renaissance and early baroque music that needs more rhythmic crispness than it received in this performance, which I saw and heard on an online stream from the second of three weekend concerts.

The program opened with undoctored early music: the “Canzon Septimi Toni” No. 2 of Giovanni Gabrieli, played with robust sonority by an octet of trumpets and trombones, paired in two choirs. The work’s antiphonal effects weren’t quite what the composer intended – to be produced across the nave of Venice’s San Marco Cathedral from opposing balconies – but came across remarkably well on the Carpenter Theatre stage.

The live stream of the concert crashed for real-time viewers. A full video of the concert went online late on Oct. 18 – thus the lateness of this review.

The stream of the concert remains viewable through Nov. 17. Access: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

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