RSO’s ‘From the Heart’ resounds at St. Andrew’s

By Tim Gaylard Special to The Roanoke Time

The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s Destination Series continued Monday night in the magnificent setting of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church with a program titled “From the Heart.” Before a sold-out audience of over 500 people, a string quintet, consisting of violinists Akemi Takayama and Matvey Lapin, violist Bernard DiGregorio, cellist Kelley Mikkelsen and bassist T. Alan Stewart, performed with David Stewart Wiley, who played the piano and conducted.

The evening began with a warm welcome from Father Kevin Segerblom, pastor of the church. The first piece performed was the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, a very appropriate choice for the venue. The reverberant acoustic suited the liberal use of rubato by the performers. Wiley provided a sympathetic support on the piano to Takayama’s sweet and soaring melody.

The two performers stayed to play Prokofiev’s virtuosic Sonata in F minor, Op. 80. Overall, this four-movement work was played with a feeling of drama and demonstrated the absolute partnership of the musicians. The first movement came off with a mood of shuddering mystery, amplified by Takayama’s impeccable double stops, virtuosic scales and perfectly placed pizzicati.

In the midst of the savage energy of the second movement, which provided a chance for the players to dialogue, Takayama also found opportunities for lyrical outpourings. Wiley wove delicate rippling patterns in the third movement that conjured up images of water, while Takayama found serenity and peace in her muted melodies.

The final, hectic movement exhibited the incredible synchronization of the performers, where they both played with rhythmic vitality and established contrasting textures. Throughout, the violin had impeccable intonation, and the piano sound filled the cavernous space. At the end of this piece, many members of the audience rose to their feet. Yet the concert was only halfway done.

Wiley conducted the string quintet in a deeply moving rendition of Shostakovich’s Sinfonia for Strings, derived from his String Quartet No. 8. This highly expressive work allowed the musicians to effectively create moods ranging from relentless terror, to sardonic humor, to stabbing pain. The piece also showcased the wonderful blend and expert ensemble of the players. When it came to its soft and consoling ending, there was that magical hush of complete silence, a sign that the audience was completely spellbound by the performance.

The final piece was the Allegro from Dohnanyi’s Piano Sextet in C Major, Op. 1, a refreshing burst of Romantic passion. Here Wiley returned to the keyboard to accompany the string quintet. He made the piano thunder in places before tapering his dynamics, allowing the others to bring out their sensuous melodies. In particular, the second theme sounded glorious in the space. But the whole piece was thrilling in its effect and, as it came to its loud and triumphant conclusion, the audience immediately gave the performance a well-deserved standing ovation.

Timothy Gaylard is professor of music at Washington and Lee University.