Review: Richmond Symphony

Valentina Peleggi conducting
with Gabriela Martinez, piano
March 6, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Symphonic-composer flavors of the year or decade come and go, but the real measure of a conductor’s mettle was, is and will remain Beethoven. By that score, Valentina Peleggi makes her for-real debut as music director of the Richmond Symphony in this month’s Masterworks program.

The program’s pairing of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major with the Symphony No. 4 in B flat major could be heard as Beethoven’s homages to his mentor, Haydn, in the symphony, and one of his prime inspirations, Mozart, in the concerto. Or as the composer who premiered the concerto in 1795 maturing into the composer who introduced the symphony in 1807. However heard, these works pose a reasonably comprehensive test of a conductor’s grasp of Beethoven’s classical musical architecture and his proto-romantic expressive sensibility.

Peleggi, I’m happy to report, not only gets Beethoven but also brings her own personality to this music without getting in its way.

In the second of three weekend performances, which I saw and heard via the online stream produced by VPM, Peleggi and orchestra gave Gabriela Martinez, the soloist in the concerto, stylish yet extroverted accompaniment, complementing the pianist’s classical poise garnished with Chopinesque tonal nuance.

Martinez’s tone turned rather brusque in rhythmic passages, which sapped much of the playfulness from the concerto’s final movement; but she compensated with an almost prayerful rendering of the central largo, which the pianist and conductor paced as a true largo – very slowly – without bogging down.

In introductory remarks, Peleggi described Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony as “a hymn of life” driven by “a primordial beat” – an improvement, I’d say, on Schumann’s purported characterization of the work as “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants” (those being the Third [“Eroica”] and Fifth symphonies).

The conductor’s hymn-singing proved to be brisk and lusty – even the symphony’s adagio moved right along – and her beat never flagged, except in an old-school downshifting of tempo in the scherzo’s trio section. The performance’s rhythmic energy plus tonal mass made for a winning combination.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. March 7 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82 (limited seating); access to online stream: $30 (viewable through April 20). Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

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