Music review: Fairfax Symphony at George Mason University

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

From a technical standpoint, the Fairfax Symphony may not offer the best playing in the Washington area. But on Saturday night, under its new conductor, Christopher Zimmerman, it showed that it can offer a considerable amount of other things to make up for this shortcoming: things like a good program, a good soloist and a lot of energy and heart.

The soloist was Augustin Hadelich, the young German violinist who gave a winning solo recital at the Kennedy Center a year ago and returned here for the Barber Violin Concerto only a few months after Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg played the same piece with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Washington's regional orchestras are evidently not bothered by programming overlaps with their larger colleagues; there are a number of similar duplications by various groups this season.) Hadelich is a sunny violinist of delicate tones, in sound like a fine-boned Gil Shaham; his lyrical gifts showed to advantage in the Barber, though the lightness of his sound was sometimes nearly overwhelmed by the orchestra's forces.

The orchestra itself warmed up as it went along. The opening piece, Haydn's "Oxford" Symphony, was a little sluggish, with small glitches and imperfections and a tendency to be long-winded rather than sprightly. But the Barber was involved and warm, and Zimmerman whipped the final piece, Sibelius's First Symphony, to a veritable crackle of energy by the last movement. Sibelius is a good fit for this orchestra, which seemed to respond to his big, warm melodies. The composer is a focus of the group's next two seasons, and in the relaxed premises of George Mason University, at ticket prices low enough to allow a number of parents to bring along small children in the audience, it's a worthwhile exploration.

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