The Winston-Salem Symphony, led by Music Director Robert Moody, kicked the new year off with a concert featuring two pleasing classical works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) and a more serious and dark symphony by 20th-century giant, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75). The evening began with an overture.

Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro, was first heard in Vienna in 1786, but it had its greatest success in Prague. The Overture to the work is a tight delight. Maestro Moody took the overture at a breakneck speed, but that didn’t seem to be a problem for the scurrying strings which launched the energetic concert opener.

Mozart designed most of his piano concertos to introduce the new works to the public, to showcase his virtuosic piano abilities, and of course, to make money. He was very aware of the need to entertain the public as well as to engage, as he wrote, “the connoisseurs.” His Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, written in 1785, succeeds on all counts.

The opening Allegro maestoso brings together both light-hearted tunes as well as some deeply moving passages. The middle Andante features muted strings and what easily could be described as an operatic aria presented by both the orchestra and the piano. (Incidentally the entire concerto is sometimes known as the Elvira Madigan, because this movement was used in a movie of the same name.) The Finale is pure fun and high comedy. And wait, didn’t I hear a snippet of a tune that would appear in the Figaro overture that was to come only one year later?

The pianist for this magnificent work was Orion Weiss, a 30-something artist who has garnered an impressive list of awards including the Gilmore Young Artist Award and the Avery Fisher Career Grant, to name a couple. He was forceful without being overpowering and graceful by turns.

One of the first things one notices about his playing is his incredible facility. His scales and filigree displayed the utmost clarity. His phrasing was impeccable. The piano concerto of Mozart’s time was less of a competition between competing forces (think Beethoven); rather it was a partnership between the orchestra and piano. This was certainly true in this case, with Moody coordinating the orchestra to match the nuances and character of the piano.

An entirely different aesthetic is found in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93. It was premiered in 1953, shortly after Stalin’s death, which is pertinent. It had been ten years since the composer had written a symphony and for good reason, as the Soviet authorities soundly criticized the 8th and the 9th. But with Stalin gone, the conditions were more favorable for an artist whose style formerly had run into trouble for his “formalistic distortions and anti-democratic tendencies alien to the Soviet people.”

The first movement Moderato begins with a passage of meandering low strings which creates somber foreboding. Indeed, much of the lengthy movement is given over to anguish and torment. Admirably, Moody was able to maintain the incredible tension for almost 25 minutes.

The short second movement is the polar opposite: manic energy is poured into a 4-minute romp, aided by 4 percussionists in addition to timpani.

The sectional Allegretto contains multiple characters often invoking a dance feel. Impertinent strings open the movement, and some terrific winds are added to the mix. A solo horn (solidly played here and throughout the evening by Robert Campbell) ushered in a more somber mood. A gigantic climax is eventually attained until the music evaporates with the clarinet (unerringly played by Anthony Taylor) and an echoing piccolo (pertly played by Lissie Shanahan) return to the opening tune.

The Finale begins somewhat tentatively in strings and winds before the mode turns more optimistic in the Allegro. This section incorporates the DSCH (the notes D, E-flat, C, B natural) motto, derived from Dmitri SCHostakovitch (an alternative spelling of the composer’s name). Indeed, in the glorious ending, the entire orchestra intoned the motto – horns, strings, winds, and even timpanist Peter Zlotnick got to beat out the tune.

The symphony lasts 50+ minutes and provides quite a workout for the orchestra. Maestro Moody held the forces together, and the ensemble displayed precision, passion, and concentration providing a brilliant conclusion to the evening.

This concert repeats Sunday, January 7 and Tuesday, January 9. See our sidebar for details.