Wiley draws verve, wit from RSO players in Masterworks concert

By Timothy Gaylard Special to The Roanoke Times

The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra continued its Masterworks series Saturday night under the baton of David Stewart Wiley in the Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center before an audience of over 600. Guest pianist Natasha Paremski was the featured soloist.

The evening began with a delightful performance of Rossini’s Overture to La Cenerentola. The generally fine woodwind section of the orchestra accentuated the lively and tuneful melodies. Wiley drew from all his players a mood of verve and wit, and the famous crescendos were truly exciting, erupting in full-throated fortissimi that almost blew the roof off the concert hall.

From the very beginning of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, soloist Paremski presented formidable octaves and a powerful sound, easily heard over the large orchestra. In the second theme of the first movement, she showed a beautifully contrasted lyrical style.

Wiley was highly attentive to the changes of mood, the tricky textural complexities and the needed balance of forces. At the beginning of the second movement, he was particularly successful in establishing a reflective mood from the soft strings. When Paremski entered with her plaintive melody, she made the piano sing with a beautiful tone and exquisite rubato.

The final movement, with its relentlessly fast melodic patterns, sounded like an exhilarating joy ride. Wiley kept the rhythms tight in the orchestra, and Paremski’s highly coordinated hands flew around the keyboard with breathtaking precision. The piece rolled on into a resounding crack of an ending that brought a standing ovation from the audience. Paremski responded by playing the notoriously difficult final movement from Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, once again displaying that she has stamina and technique to burn.

After the intermission, the entire second half of the concert was taken up by Beethoven’s enduring Seventh Symphony. Wiley seemed to be channeling the spirit of Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is being celebrated this year, and who was closely identified with this symphony throughout his career. Wiley drew the very best out of the symphony, and the performance was the highlight of the evening. The taut and concise rendition came in at a total of only 36 minutes.

Wiley eschewed the repeats of the expositions in both the first and last movements. He went from the first movement into the second without a break, and did the same between the third and fourth. There was a fierce intensity in the first movement; the second moved forward with relentless restlessness; the third was buoyant in the main sections, but in the trios came to thrilling climaxes; and the fourth showed a careful pacing of tempo, a rich range of dynamics and an incandescent energy that erupted close to the end.

There was generally excellent playing from all members of the orchestra, but special mention should be made of the expressive colors produced by the oboe of Bill Parrish, the subtle to thundering timpani of Zubin Hathi and the warm and steely sounds of the brass section. The audience immediately rose to its feet, with loud cheers, and the orchestra reacted with smiles and a unison bow.

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