Charlottesville Symphony concert just misses the mark

One phrase characterizes my impression of the Charlottesville Symphony’s November 16th concert: “it was great, except for…”

The program itself, “Romantic Titans” was first-rate. The first half of the program featured two orchestral works; the second two large-scale choral works.

Maestro Benjamin Rouse freely admitted “Caught by the Wind” was something of an outliner. Composer Jessie Montgomery is still very much alive, so her music is about a century too late for the Romantic Era. And yet it’s a work inspired by nature, very much part of the Romantic ideal.

Montgomery’s imaginative use of percussion and extended string techniques effectively depicted a wind that moves and shapes all it passes over. Sinuous chromatic figures sidled throughout the soundscape evoking natural forces.

It was great, except for the intonation problems. The strings took a while to coalesce. Hearing what should have been unison passages grinding microtonally against each other detracted from my enjoyment of the work.

Charlottesville Symphony concert
Katy Ambrose, horn

Katy Ambrose was the featured soloist for Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1. She played with a clear, strong tone that sounded positively heroic at times. The clarion sound of the fanfare passages was exciting.

It was great, except for the bobbled notes. Live performances aren’t often note-perfect, nor should we expect them to be (unless it’s a competition). Unfortunately, there were enough fluffed attacks to be noticeable, if not distracting.

Maestro Michael Slon took the podium for the second half. It opened with Mendelssohn’s gorgeous setting of Psalm 42. The UVA University Singers sang with exceptional precision. Every attack was clean, every syllable clear and understandable. Soprano soloist Pamela Beasley sang with a pleasantly warm tone.

It was great, except for the balance. Ms. Beasley’s singing just didn’t project strongly enough. It was often overwhelmed by the chorus and orchestra.

Bruckner’s Te Deum concluded the concert. A real standout (besides the University singers), was tenor Jamison Walker. The tenor carries most of the solo duties in this work, and Walker did them well. I heard real passion in his voice, with beautifully turned phrases.

It was great, except for the balance of the soloists. The soprano’s voice just didn’t have the power of the other three soloists.

On the positive side, the UVA University Singers plus the Charlottesville Symphony is one powerhouse combination. Their performances together were the real highlights of the evening.

Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia; Benjamin Rous, Music Director
Katy Ambrose, horn
UVA University Singers; Michael Slon, director
Pamela Beasley, soprano; Brenda Patterson, mezzo-soprano; Jamison Walker, tenor; Ben Wager, bass-baritone

Jessie Montgomery: Caught by the Wind
Richard Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1in E-flat major, Op. 11
Felix Mendelssohn: Psalm 42, Op. 42
Anton Bruckner: Te Deum in C major, WAB 45

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