In the company of my wife and two sons, I took a “busman’s holiday” recently when I attended the closing concert of the Winston-Salem Symphony’s recent series, directed by visiting conductor, JoAnn Falletta. Maestra Falletta is well-known in the Triad from her recent intensive participation in the Eastern Music Festival on the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro. Celebrating her 10th year as the Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Ms. Falletta has also served as the Music Director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra since 1991.
Petite, slender and attractive, Ms. Falletta is a musical giant, leading the Symphony with bold and fiery vigor. Espousing a Romantic program, the maestra led the orchestra through a lovely performance of Robert Schumann’s setting of the tragedy, Manfred, by Lord Byron. Long a favorite of this reviewer, this bitter-sweet music, which starts stormily and ends in the quiet death of the hero, is one of Schumann’s magnificent orchestral works, still largely unfamiliar to broad audiences.
The concert also featured a little-heard work of the precocious 14-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, his Double Concerto for violin and piano in D minor. Lost until 1957, this long work has some charming moments and some portents of genius, especially in the soulful "Adagio" and rollicking "Rondo." But the work could use some judicious editing, especially in the opening movement where all the rules of development and recapitulation held sway over the diminishing ability of the audience to pay attention.
The soloists in Mendelssohn concerto were Michael Ludwig, violinist and recently appointed concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and Benjamin Loeb, piano virtuoso and Associate Conductor of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Ludwig played with an achingly beautiful tone and Mr. Loeb was ever the nimble virtuoso. Some of the best writing of this youthful work was when the two soloists played without the orchestra, in true violin sonata style.
The second half of the concert was entirely devoted to Johannes Brahms’ towering Second Symphony in D, Op. 73. A monument of the orchestral repertory, this performance was one of the finest live performances I have heard, and a shining moment for the Winston-Salem Symphony as well. Although short in the viola section (this Second Symphony demands more of them than any other Brahms symphony), the strings were warm and vibrant, and at times, positively lush. The many horn solos of recently appointed principal horn, Robert Campbell, were outstanding – one might only encourage him to dominate the crescendos even more – as were the trombones and tuba (rare for Brahms). The third movement, a cross between an Intermezzo and a Scherzo was a great showcase for the woodwinds as well as the strings. The judicious choice of tempo relationships by Maestra Faletta in the Finale brought the final coda to a powerful climax and the audience to its feet. Brava!