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Winston-Salem Symphony Music Director Robert Moody chose the theme "Romantic Nights" to encapsulate the three diverse works on the penultimate classical program of the season. A recent work by a living composer portrays the ambiguities of life in New York City. A soloist with local connections was featured in an unusual masterpiece by a Spanish composer, and the depth and strength of the orchestra was tested over the course of Rachmaninov's plush, sprawling Second Symphony.
Toward the Splendid City (1996) was composed by Richard Danielpour (b.1956) in response to a commission from the New York Philharmonic as part of its celebration of its 150th anniversary. The composer was finishing a residency with the Seattle Symphony and was having second thoughts about returning to New York City. Danielpour writes he "was driven by my love-hate relationship with" the city. Using an eclectic mix of modern orchestral scoring, his tone poem evokes his realization that what he loves and hates about the city is inseparable. Much of the score features loud driving rhythms. Muted trumpets conjure traffic as in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Several quieter passages featured attractive passages for strings or woodwinds. Moody kept tight control of the orchestra, keeping the sections well-balanced and controlling phrasing closely.
Manuel de Falla's earliest concept for Nights in the Gardens of Spain, for piano and orchestra, dates from 1909 when he planned a set of three nocturnes for solo piano. Over the six-year gestation period, several friends, especially Albéniz, urged him to compose a tone-poem for piano and orchestra. The orchestration is a subtle blending of the French Impressionists refracted through Falla's unique Spanish-tinted prism. The score was completed in 1915 and consists of three movements: "En el Generalife" (At the Generalife), "Danza Lejana" (Distant Dance), and "En los Jardines de la Sierra Córdoba" (In the Gardens of the Mountains of Cordoba). Instead of being set against the orchestra, the piano has a very prominent part as a member of the orchestra. Falla uses Andalusian themes to lend an Oriental atmosphere to the first movement. In the second movement he uses whirling trills, runs, and the rhythmic strumming of the orchestra to suggest the sounds of a Spanish Guitar. The last movement paints an evening party with gypsy musicians.
Moody's outstanding piano soloist was Carlos Rodríguez, a native of Venezuela with solid local connections. As a young prodigy, he earned his bachelor's degree with Clifton Matthews at the North Carolina School of the Arts. This was followed by his master's from the Juilliard School of Music and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Maryland. Rodríquez conjured a gorgeous piano tone with a refined palette of color and a hair-trigger control of rhythm and dynamics. Rodríguez's virtuoso chops were displayed in his first encore, "The Ritual Fire Dance" from Falla's El Amor Brujo which was all-the-more challenging for having been reduced to a solo piano version. Further evidence of his ability to weave a poetic line was given by his second encore was a "Danza" by Enrique Granados (1876-1916).
The huge, string-rich expanse of Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27, was a good measure of the current state of the Winston-Salem Symphony in the third season of Moody's tenure. Eschewing the baton, Moody's expressive hands subtly molded dynamics, phrasing, and rhythms. Sections played as one, instantly responding to sudden changes of tempo or volume. Strings made up in fullness of tone for any lack of numbers for such a luxurious, Romantic score. The brass played with a burnished, warm tone. Moody's sensuous shaping of singing line of the slow third movement was outstanding. This movement's prominent clarinet solo was superbly played by Anthony Taylor. Other fine solo contributions were given by Concertmistress Corine Brower, cellist Beth Vanderborgh, and violist Noah Hock.