VSO's Falletta delights at Ferguson Center

02.27.18
JoAnn Falletta
The Virginia Gazette

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s Friday performance in the Ferguson Center for the Arts was another example of superior playing at the hand of JoAnn Falletta. It was designed to entertain, and in that design it did. A solid program of familiar works comprised the fare: Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides,” Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” and Brahms’s “Symphony No. 1,” the evening’s spotlight performance.

For some reason, the Mendelssohn replaced the originally announced presentation of Stravinsky’s “Funeral Song.” I must admit disappointment at the substitution in that the Stravinsky would have been a rare hearing; the work was written in 1908 as a memorial tribute to Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky’s teacher, played once and essentially lost until archivists at the St. Petersburg Conservatory uncovered it three years ago. Since then it has been making the rounds of concert halls. Had it made the cut, it would have added extra excitement to the fare but, alas, it was not to be. Maybe in a future program.

What “Funeral Song” would have provided in thoughtful, emotional exploration, “Hebrides” provided in sound and fury, musically suggestive of the rocky remoteness of Staffa Island off the coast of Scotland, home of the famed Fingal’s Cave. A fine example of a tone poem in its mood-setting evocation of turbulent waters, the majesty of the environment, and isolation, its rendering was appropriately and thematically rock solid.

The Chopin is interesting in that it and his first concerto were the only times he waded into the genre. Unlike many such works, this one was designed more to showcase the brilliance of the pianist than to establish a dialog with the orchestra. Chopin wanted to create something that would display his virtuoso skill and technique and prove his worth as a player and composer. And he did just that.

Thus, it’s imperative a soloist be equipped to do it as intended — to dazzle. Prisca Benoit is a French pianist of considerable note who made her US debut four years ago with this orchestra. She’s also affiliated with the Sentara Music and Medicine Center and neurologist Dr. Kamal Chemali, participating in lecture-demonstrations on the therapeutic impact of music and medicine, one of which she appeared in last June at the Kimball Theatre. In fact, Chemali addressed the audience prior to the start of the concert and briefly explained his work and its effectiveness.
 
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