Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" is written in such a way that even average performances, as long as they are in tune, will be pleasing to the audience. But there is a depth and subtlety to this work, which in the hands of an exceptional conductor and an exceptional orchestra can hold an audience enthralled. Conductor Kim Allen Kluge and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra provided precisely that kind of performance Saturday night at T.C. Williams High School.
With quiet, loving gestures, Kluge drew beautifully shaped phrases from the strings, who played with equally loving tone and unity of purpose.
There was equally fine thought given to the overall shape of the work, which starts with the lower strings, builds to an intense climax for the violins and back to a quiet but rich resolution.
Much of the effectiveness of the work was due to the quality of the lower strings. The Alexandria Symphony viola section is now easily the best in the area, and the cellos and basses are not far behind. Kluge emphasized the lower sounds, especially in the opening, providing a strong foundation that could be felt in the gut. It was a world-class performance.
Stravinsky's Violin Concerto was an excellent choice to follow the Barber. It is a work that calls on virtually every player involved to think in terms of chamber music.
The violin, played with verve and style by Monica Germino, was called on to interact with a complex array of partners in the orchestra. Her playing was best in the jocular first and the brisk fourth movements, where she demonstrated a wide variety of colors and emotions.
In the second movement there were some tuning problems in the admittedly formidable double stops (two notes played simultaneously by the violin), and in the third movement the soloist's tone quality was not rich enough to bring passion to the formal melodic structure.
Kluge did a fine job of leading the orchestra through a veritable minefield of difficulties and creating ensemble out of Stravinsky's tangled web of instrumentation.
The performance of Tchaikovsky's stirring and affirmative Fifth Symphony was brilliant. For almost three decades, this reviewer has carried the memory of a recording (by the great Charles Munch, perhaps, but memory is not always accurate) played and enjoyed over and over again.
On Saturday night, conductor Kluge and the Alexandria Symphony managed to supplant this well-established memory and provide a new standard against which all other performances will be compared.
Structure, pacing and phrasing were all carefully worked out. Every solo line was clear but, paradoxically, the massed sound of the orchestra was totally unified.
Much of the success was due to outstanding ensemble work by the wind and brass sections. All players deserve mention, but there is space to commend only some of the solos by principal players.
Foremost is hornist Emil George, who phrased each note of his second movement solo with care and with a sweet tone.
Then there is clarinetist Charles Findley, who lent the dimension of human vocalization to the important first movement solos.
Oboist Robert L. Olson, flutist Stephani Stang-McCusker and Philip Snedecor on trumpet also contributed fine solos.