The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra delivered another finely programmed affair Wednesday, that was revelatory in that it offered a work, most likely unfamiliar to just about everyone in the Kimball Theatre, including the musicians.
Muzio Clementi, a Classical stylist best known for his piano works, wrote four major symphonies, none of which seem to have gotten much play in the larger world of orchestral performances. Such a pity since this performance, so exactingly directed by Janna Hymes, was illustrative of Clementi's orchestral capabilities. After a quiet and deliberate "larghetto" opening, the work evolves into one that is joyful, light and somewhat carefree, much along the lines of Haydn. Its lines are lyrical, clean, uncluttered and fall happily on the ear, most especially the many musical surprises that fall throughout the work. The WSO performance perfectly captured the work's spirit.
The evening's featured fare was Beethoven's last piano concerto, the venerable Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, with Alessio Bax at the keyboard. Bax is considered one of the major players of the day, his performances garnering international acclaim. That he plays around the world with orchestras and ensembles and in recital, in addition to touring frequently with Joshua Bell and the esteemed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center attests to the blue-ribbon quality of his abilities and the high regard in which he is held by his notable associates.
Commonly known as the "Emperor," the E-flat major rings a familiar sound, the work's sublime melodies, flowing lyricism, and joyful spirit regularly heard on radio broadcasts and on concert stages. Hymes and the WSO were on top of the score, turning out a performance that was supportive and leading as required. The orchestra's playing was without fault, its cooperative association with Bax and Beethoven comfortable and conducive to solid music making.
As for his part, Bax displayed a strong keyboard capability and easily evident virtuoso skills. From the start with the work's powerful and energetic statements, Bax was commanding and remained so throughout the piece. While there were moments that seemed more academic in delivery and dynamics than involved and emotional, he was assuredly on target in offering a clean, concise and technically executed-to-surgical-precision performance. All in all, a strong collaborative endeavor.
The evening opened with Ravel's charming "Mother Goose Suite," originally written as a four-hand piano piece for two young children, based on their favorite fairy tales. Eventually transcribed for orchestra and then ballet, the five-movement fantasy is filled with glorious sounds — rich, lyrical and inviting. Ravel's understanding of the instrumental tones and colors contributed to his vivid harmonic constructions, most often referred to as impressionistic.
Under Hymes, its five movements were gently crafted to bring out Ravel's colorful sound palette. The "Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty" and "Tom Thumb" were elegant, shimmering delights; the "Empress of the Pagodas" was lyrical and lovely, its exotic sounds and use of percussion particularly alluring; the "Beauty and the Beast," waltz lines were gentle and sweetly shaped; and the closing "Fairy Garden" fully embraced the its sumptuous layers of sound that grew and grew, ultimately blossoming into the most exquisite and glorious of conclusions. To me, it was the take home moment of this engaging evening with the WSO.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearnce in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."