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Having acquitted itself with some truly adventurous programming this season, the Winston-Salem Symphony and Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale presented as part of its pre-Valentine's Day celebration “Music for Lovers." The three presentations began with another installment in the orchestra's Kicked Back Classics series, during which the orchestra, under Maestro Robert Moody, gave a truly exemplary performance of Maurice Ravel's 1912 masterpiece, Daphnis et Chloé.
As stated in a brief address to the audience given by Moody before the performance started, Daphnis et Chloé was premiered by Sergei Diaghilev and his famous Ballet Russes. The work never had much of a hold in the ballet repertoire, but the music has long since been making the rounds in the concert hall, mostly in the form of two suites that Ravel himself extracted. To hear this work in its complete form is a rarity in the concert world, so this presentation was a rare treat. Aiding the performance was a slide presentation that played on the back wall, offering textual context to help audience better grasp the work.
The introduction to the work is marked very, very quietly, with only some low, long notes in the lower strings and gentle plucking of the harps. However, the piece quickly grew up and outward, and the first great climax (couple of minutes after its start) very much felt like the sun coming up and shining out over the landscape. There are many opportunities to create wonderful music throughout this hour long composition, and Moody and the orchestra certainly made the most of them. The strings in particular acquitted themselves wonderfully, handling Ravel's sometimes manic writing with a casualness that can be much admired. This work is also ripe with solo opportunities, and every principal player got a chance to shine. A couple of excellent examples would be first flute Kathryn Levy's solos in the third part of the ballet (the third part also forms the popular Second Suite) and first horn Robert Campbell's solos in the Introduction and Nocturne. The percussion section contributed some truly thrilling sounds, including a wonderfully realistic wind machine to represent the pirate's storm-battered home. Also deserving the greatest praise is the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale, which sang with power and a beauty of sound that fit in admirably with Ravel's sensual score. Even though this was a relatively short concert, the audience I am certain left the Stevens Center very musically satisfied.
The Winston-Salem Symphony and WSS Chorale will present the work again on February 10 at 3:00 p.m. and February 12 at 7:30 p.m. Both of these programs will include Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2, “Romantic." For details, see the sidebar.