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A tale of two warhorses: Dvorak's and Bruckner's

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two warhorse symphonies in minor keys were the focus of the West Virginia Symphony's concert on a stormy Friday evening at Charleston's Clay Center.

Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor has maintained its popularity, mainly through its lovely themes (melodies), but it deserves it as much for its clever cyclic construction, where motifs from earlier movements work their way into the later ones, and its deftly manipulated textures and orchestration.

Still, the piece is so familiar, it is hard to play the piece and make it sound fresh. That is what the orchestra did in conductor Grant Cooper's thoughtful interpretation.

The opening movement was crisply played emphasizing leanness to the lines. Robust playing by the horn section and quiet grace from oboist Lorraine Dorsey and flutists Lindsey Goodman and Ellen Beal added notably.

The slow movement had Alex Winter's soulful English horn playing, subtle woodwinds and rich strings. Cooper's conducting of the final passage of the C# minor section was as transparent as I have heard.

The scherzo was decisively rhythmic. Cooper's choice of a slower tempo in the second theme of the scherzo yielded a textural clarity and restrained lilt that seemed apt.

The trio, often played with light articulation, surprised with the depth of its warm tone from the winds and horns and broader phrasing.

The finale had plenty of power and drama.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 in D Minor was the evening's other warhorse.

I don't know how many audience members who did not know the piece ended their evening as new fans of the composer. The applause awarded after the 70-minute performance was brief and perfunctory.

Cooper clearly believes in the piece and the orchestra sounded in fine form. The trombone section -- Chris Dearth, David Parrilla and Glenn Proffit -- played with zest.

Cooper's interpretation could not connect episodic looseness of the piece and I never had a feeling for the overall line. The scherzo, the shortest movement at eight minutes, was best. In the outer movements, he never forged connections in the episodes that emerge, gradually gaining momentum only to chop off or falter without clear links being established.

He did make a determined effort to clarify the constant thick textures that pervade the whole piece. Nevertheless, I can't remember a performance where I did not come away with a clear memory of a solo melodic line from a single instrument.

Until this one.

The concert repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center.


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