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The menu of Music Director Peter Perret's February 10 Winston-Salem Symphony concert was unusually appetizing. A full Stevens Center heard a glowing program with an overall theme of transfiguration; two works by Wagner and Strauss have the word in their titles and their synopses while the concept can be implied in the Mozart score offered, too.
It was a rare treat to hear Wagner's Tristan und Isolde Prelude and Transfiguration (or Liebestod) given with Isolde's text instead of just the orchestral version. Perret led a good standard interpretation, effectively phrased and balanced and with careful attention to the dramatic value of the silences. His soloist was another of those fine local talents he has been so successful in utilizing, a welcome contrast to sometimes burned-out or indifferent "big" names. Soprano Laura Ingram earned her Master of Music in opera at the NCSA and is a first place winner of the Southeastern Metropolitan Opera Auditions as well as a finalist of the San Francisco Opera Auditions. While not a force of nature like Brigit Nilsson, she possesses a lovely, warm voice that is even throughout its range and projected it well. Her diction was excellent and she seldom came close to being covered by the orchestra. Her high notes, surfing on the crests of Wagner's huge waves of passion, were memorable. In trying to manifest Isolde's transfiguration physically, however, she adopted an unusual series of body twists, hand and arm gestures combined with ecstatic facial expressions. To this former zoology major, these motions suggested the squirming of a butterfly trying to extricate itself from a pupa case. Overall, this was more distracting than moving - her gorgeously produced voice, fully modulating Isolde's emotions, would have been enough. The crucial oboe solo was well done.
Perret ended the concert with a burnished reading of Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration," Op. 24, beginning with its hesitant irregular rhythms portraying the dying man, followed by his remembrance of past successes and failures, and ending with his soul ascending upon a rising wave of sound. The five horns had a good night and the trumpets and trombones were particularly well balanced. Fine solos by Concertmistress Corine Brower, cellist Robert Marsh, violist Sally Peck, and the principal flute, oboe, and clarinet were acknowledged by the conductor.
Transfiguration was implied by the joyful exuberance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27, in B-flat, K.595, his penultimate concerto, which shows no hint of the composer's drastic circumstances at the time it was written. Steering an ideal balance between the poles of a "porcelain-figurine" Mozart-approach and a too-robust romantic interpretation, Italian pianist Fabio Bidini brought great style, a lovely, light touch, and flowing lines to the concerto, perfectly matched by Perret's accompaniment. The Larghetto seemed to suspend time. Prolonged applause elicited a myriad of arpeggios and trills in a work by Chopin. Mozart piano concertos are too little programmed, so we would welcome Bidini's return engagement; interpretations of his depth and style are rare.