WSO's 'hidden gems' now in full daylight

The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra's "Hidden Gem" program, Tuesday in the Kimball Theatre, was another example of the fine programming skills Janna Hymes brings to her role as conductor and music director. It's difficult to develop a season that is balanced between the old and familiar and the newer and less familiar. Yet, it's essential to the educational mission of any orchestra to provide listeners a variety of styles to expand appreciation and understanding. Hymes does this quite well, advancing the concept by her always-entertaining and informative commentary during programs.

Tuesday evening opened with a work that is not so much a hidden gem as a gem of an overture to one of Verdi's major operas, "La Forza del Destino." It's an overture of force and lyricism and thematic concepts that builds to a rousing conclusion. A particular note of excellence goes to Anastasia Jellison's quite fine intricate harp work.

Following the dramatic Verdi was Mozart's Symphony No. 36 in C major, subtitled "Linz," a work of a lighter and more soothing nature. It opens, unlike Mozart's many works, on an extended and somewhat somber note before bursting into a spirited Allegro. Unusual, too, in the Adagio was Mozart's use of brass and percussion that added dimension and flavor to the gracefulness of the movement. The Menuetto was a lilting and lyrical prelude to the closing, brisk and spirited Presto finale. Hymes and orchestra delivered the "Linz" with clear, concise and highly articulated playing that showcased Mozart's ability to capture and inspire spirit and the WSO's ability to transmit that spirit.

The real hidden gem on this program was Carl Nielson's Symphony No. 1 in G minor. Sadly, for too long a while, Danish born Nielson never quite got as much attention as his Finnish colleague Sibelius. Personally, I've been a Nielson fan from the first time, as a youngster, I heard his Symphony No. 4, "Inextinguishable," the title suggesting the power held within. It was exciting to see it on the program.

Fortunately, his six symphonies are now universally acclaimed, along with many of his other works embracing the chamber, keyboard, opera, hymn and song, and orchestral genres. Yet, Nielson is still not a familiar name to many.

Thanks are due Hymes for bringing this work to us. I hope the excellent performance it received will inspire more area arts groups to explore his vast literature and give him additional chances to be heard.

The G minor opens with a burst of sound and energy that seldom relents. It's a powerful piece of rich, tonally innovative orchestration, construction and challenges. Within are often tricky rhythmic patterns, potential pitfalls, and shifting lines and moods.

There are no take-home melodies with Nielson. Instead there are take-home emotions that range from intimacy to intensity. One moment there's a sense of tranquility, the next turbulence, most readily heard in the remarkable Andante where Nielson weaves a pattern of intensity that slowly builds from quiet to powerful statements and back again. It's an extraordinarily effective application.

The Nielson is not easy. It's substantial and big. Whereas the other works on the program have been played before by the members at various times in other orchestras, I doubt the Nielson has had as much previous exposure, if any. Its performance here was the first for the WSO. That this dramatic and intense work was played with the polish and power heard and with markedly limited rehearsal time again illustrates the WSO's deep talent base and its collective dedication and determination to produce high quality music. This is a gem that's not hidden.

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."

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