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Rozsa played by 2 spellbinding with W.Va. Symphony

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Conductor Grant Cooper has been chipping away at some interesting music by composers who are known for their work in film music over the past few seasons of concerts by the West Virginia Symphony.

Erich Korngold's excellent Violin Concerto (in 2005) and John Williams' beguiling Tuba Concerto (in 2012) have been played. Friday night, Miklos Rozsa, one of the dominant composers of music for film in the middle of the 20th century, was featured with his Sinfonia concertante for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29.

Violinist Maria Schleuning and cellist Jolyon Pegis made a spellbinding case for the piece, bringing sweep to the melodies that open the work. Pegis played with an earthy tone at the start of the first movement's lengthy cadenza while Schleuning matched him in warmth of tone. The orchestra sounded neat and clean in Rozsa's slyly tart harmonies.

The central movement's variations were a wonder of contrapuntal interplay between the soloists and a fine example of pacing. The melodies seemed to hover and float dreamily without losing an insistent rhythmic undercurrent.

The rather Hungarian dances of the finale were lively and witty, with drenching tone. The soloists, and the orchestra, played ravishingly.

Cooper conducted a detailed, insightful accompaniment that had rhythmic fluency over the piece's subtle shifts in tempo and meter.

Cooper led a leisurely paced performance of Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger." Rich singing lines from the tuba, cellos and basses and polished textures kept the music from dragging. The brasses glowed in the main chordal theme and Cooper built a grand welter of sound on the end.

His interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 seemed a bit understated, less of a force of nature unleashed and more of a meditation. But if such introspection yields clarity to the argument, one can hardly complain. The cyclic theme did gather in force as it returned in subsequent movements and the textures were full of detail on which the ear could focus and the mind could dissect.

The final movement, especially, gained from his approach, sounding more predictive of things to come, say the Stravinsky after the big ballets and a whole lot of Prokofiev.

The orchestra was right on the mark throughout from hushed clarinets of the beginning to Marsha Palmer's playing of the iconic horn solo in the slow movement to the crackle of the finale.

The concert, the start of the orchestra's 75th season, repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center.


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