The Western Piedmont Symphony’s Masterworks Concert Series continued with a program of works by the old Viennese masters. While the three composers featured were all top-ten guys, the programming highlighted pieces other than their oft-played iconic warhorses.

Haydn’s Sixth Symphony, “Le Matin” in D, H. 1/6, displays not only the composer’s characteristic sense of humor, but his sometimes underappreciated gifts for grace and elegance as well. This work offers, at first sight, what appears to be a gold mine of showy solos for many different timbres. However, the piece demands more subtlety than may be immediately apparent. If the conductor is not mindful, the democratic spread of virtuosic solos — originally an opportunity to try for a bonus from the Esterházy bosses — can easily overshadow the beauty of the ripieno sections. While he did provide his colleagues with opportunities to show their talent, Haydn did not write a mere framework to display technical ability. This symphony has far more to offer to critical players and listeners.

WPS’ strength lies not in its technical chops, but in its delicate and expressive sense of musicality. They found the necessary balance between the individual and collective, especially in the second movement. The continuo section, which featured some particularly strong players, was notable for effective communication between celli, basses, and harpsichord. The unusual but delightful bassoon and bass duet present in the trio were presented with elegance and charm. To end the symphony, Maestro Ross brought the lively breathtaking Finale: Allegro to life with dramatic but tasteful dynamics. During the most energetic sections, he could be clearly seen bouncing on his heels.

For Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertina in E-flat, K. 364, the viola section was split on the stage in reflection of the two viola parts in this work. While the inherent balance challenges and overlapping ranges did create some clarity issues, the added layer of harmonic richness always adds much to the piece. Mozart’s exploration of the fascinating orchestration opportunities that come with solo, first, and second parts for both violin and viola also make this work unusual. Maestro Ross has a gift for negotiating sudden, dramatic, but short-lived ritardandos with an impressive display of ensemble. The highlights of this work were clearly the duo cadenzas, written by the composer himself for the first two movements. Dmitri Pogorelov and Ai Ishida capitalized on their extensive experience together as members of the Kontras Quartet; their playing had all the alluring interplay of a duet while retaining the individualistic charm and expressivity of an indulgent soloist.

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, written at a time of turbulence in his personal life, is of a joyful, dramatic, and accessible character and should really be performed more than it is. The playful harmonic machinations of the Allegro vivace are delightful, including the mischievous foreshadowing of the surprise F-sharp minor modulation near the end. And you thought you had those repeated tonic finales all figured out. Gotcha again.

Technically speaking, the particularly thorny brass and woodwind writing was a stretch for this ensemble. Even so, there were many bright spots throughout the work. The rhythmic conflict in the minuet, the acrobatic cello under horns and clarinet, and the soft, breathless initial presentation of the first theme of the fourth movement were all high points.

One of the usually unmentioned assets of any ensemble is their faithful following. Hickory audiences are highly appreciative: devout in attention and exuberant in applause. Local residents are clearly proud of the critical role that the arts play in their community. According to a letter from John Gordon Ross, music director and conductor, the Hickory area is one of the “smallest metropolitan areas in the United States to host a fully-professional orchestra.” The accomplishment, both on the part of the orchestra and on the part of the community, is anything but small. 

Masterworks continues on March 12.  See our calendar for details.