Review: Richmond Symphony

I am medically advised to avoid crowded public events, and so cannot attend concerts. The Richmond Symphony is making video streams of its mainstage concerts available to ticket-holders. The stream of this program became accessible on March 1.

Valentina Peleggi conducting
with María Dueñas, violin
Feb. 25, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

María Dueñas, the 18-year-old Spanish violinist who was the senior-level winner of the 2021 Richmond round of the Menuhin Competition for young violinists, chose an ideal showcase for her technique and interpretive inclinations to play in her return to the Richmond Symphony: Edouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole.”

Written in 1874 for the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, the Lalo is a curious hybrid, part violin concerto, part romantic tone poem, in which an elaborately violinistic, almost operatically rhetorical solo violin weaves in and out of a rather dark, bluntly expressive orchestration.

The violin soloist is unmistakably the star of the piece, and Dueñas was stellar in the role. Her performance was a near-ideal combination of technical precision and impulsive spontaneity, both effectively underscored by her lean, highly focused and pitch-perfect tone.

She delivered more of the same, plus dollops of wit and swing, in an encore, Alexei Igudesman’s “Applemania.”

Valentina Peleggi, the orchestra’s music director, burnished her credentials as an interpreter of Brahms in a performance of the composer’s Symphony No. 3 in F major. This is the shortest, yet most challenging, of the four Brahms symphonies, starkly contrasting lyricism and dramatic intensity, full of precarious balances between long-limbed tunes and tricky details of solo and ensemble voicings and rhythms.

Peleggi set a measured pace for the symphony, leaving space and time for those contrasts and details to sound clearly. String tone was enriched by violin sections seated in old-style classical fashion, firsts to the conductor’s left, seconds to the right, with violas and cellos in the center of the string ensemble.

The program opened with “MeChicano” by the Mexican-American composer Juan Pablo Contreras, commissioned by six orchestras in New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices, a project promoting works by Black, Hispanic and Asian-American composers.

Introducing his piece, Contreras described it as a homage to the varied, often surprising, mixture of musical styles heard in the borderlands of Mexico and the US. Compact and colorful, mostly brassy and percussive but with significant cameos for lushly voiced string writing, “MeChicano” is an attractive, energetic curtain-raiser.

The stream of this program remains accessible until June 30, Dueñas’ performance until March 31. Access: $30 Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

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