Rachel Barton Pine, the virtuoso violinist, is making her first appearances with the Winston-Salem Symphony. The ensemble should consider having her back again soon, either for the presentation of a blockbuster concerto or, perhaps, as the highlight of a program devoted to Americana.
I say this after hearing her solo with the ensemble Sunday in Jean Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto in D Minor.” The performance — conducted with steady assurance by Tim Redmond, the symphony’s music director, in memory of Keith Yarbrough, the symphony’s former tuba player — was masterful in every way. It prompted a standing ovation by the audience in the Stevens Center.
But that’s not all. Mark O’Connor’s “First Caprice for Unaccompanied Violin,” which Pine offered as an encore, amounted to a spellbinding rendition of a piece whose pyrotechnics both obscure and enhance its bluegrass influences. Or, to put it another way, fancy fiddling has seldom sounded so refined.
But back to Sibelius, which highlighted a program that began with Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau” and concluded with Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 6 in D Major.” The concerto has long been viewed as one of the towering masterpieces in the repertoire for solo violin and orchestra, on a par with violin concertos of Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn.
David Levy, in program notes for the performance, writes insightfully about some structural similarities Sibelius’ concerto shares with Mendelssohn’s. One similarity is the introduction of the soloist, which happens right away, without an orchestral exposition. This means, among other things, that there’s no easing into things for the soloist, that she’s got to establish her A-game immediately. Pine did so convincingly, unleashing small bursts of virtuosity that came to resemble mini-cadenzas of brilliance on the way to a highly memorable, full-blown one later on in the movement.
The middle adagio unleashes one lyrical line after another. On Sunday, it emerged as an achingly beautiful love song without words. It held nothing back in terms of emotion and feeling. And as for the final movement — well, that became swept up in a momentum inspired by highly rhythmic writing for soloist and orchestra, colorful orchestrations for strings and final bars whose blasts of brass are the sonic equivalent of fireworks.
As for “The Moldau” and “Symphony No. 6,” each piece had something to recommend it at the performance. The former’s familiar melodies came across with a phrasing seemingly inspired by the most lyrical of singing.
Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 6” isn’t heard all that much on concert programs, overshadowed by the composer’s more popular seventh, eighth and ninth symphonies. Initially, such neglect seemed justified to this listener, who felt the piece had its moments but that said moments didn’t always add up to the most satisfying whole. By the time the bubbly Furiant third movement rolled around, though, the piece had begun growing on me. It became a reminder of just how skillfully and appealingly its composer could write music that’s at once tuneful and complex.I