If you weren’t in Jones Auditorium at Meredith College on Sunday evening, you missed probably the most imaginative Valentine offering of the weekend. There conductors Jim Waddelow and Alan Neilson led the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra in the well-named program, “A Gift of Love.” Each of the works in its own way celebrated the “valentine” brand of love.

Opening the proceedings was the main piece of the evening, the fourteen “Enigma Variations” of Elgar. At first blush, it was not clear why this selection should have been placed so prominently in the program, but by the time Variation IX (Nimrod) came along, the lush and “lovable” melodies showed the potential to soften the most jaded heart. During the rest of the work, Interim Music Director Waddelow elicited soaring melodies from the players, particularly the cellos in Variation XII.

Waddelow returned to the podium later to lead Beethoven’s Romance in G, Op. 40. The orchestra did justice to that composer’s compelling orchestration. RSO concertmistress Tasi Matthews applied an effective and steady hand without distracting idiosyncrasies as the violin soloist.

Neilson, the Conductor Emeritus, then led the “Dance of the Comedians” from Smetana’s Bartered Bride. Perhaps that jumping dance music was not all that romantic, but who could deny the amorous content in the convoluted story of the bride who employed all her wiles to retain her beloved and avoid being bartered away?

At the close of the next piece, excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen, Neilson rightly recognized the flutes for their excellent featured work. This familiar music reminded the hearer of the relationship between opera’s (possibly) all-time favorite beauty and her young soldier/lover.

The Conductor Emeritus rounded out the evening with the lustrous music from the Allegro con gracia movement of Tchiakovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pathétique,” and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This most famous and familiar wedding music provided an ardent and “loverly” culmination to the evening, bestowing a splendid valentine upon lovers hither and yon. 

The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra continues its tradition as a “good buy” for the Triangle area. Fans of fine and exciting music are enjoined to watch our calendar and to take advantage of every practical opportunity to support this organization.