Sounds of Shakespeare

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music Music was a fashionable accomplishment of Elizabethan gentlemen, but Shakespeare had a special sensitivity to it, to judge by the frequent and detailed musical references in his plays. Fittingly, his works have inspired more classical compositions than any literary source but the Bible. The Charlottesville and University Symphony sampled this vast repertoire at Cabell Hall in the third themed program of Kate Tamarkin’s debut “Fanfare Season” as music director.

The concert began with the overture to Otto Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor, a mid-19th-century German opera in the Weber tradition. Perhaps not yet warmed to their work, the string sections sounded less than inspired in this romping sketch of what may be Shakespeare’s most frivolous comedy. More satisfying was a suite from the music for Laurence Olivier’s motion picture Henry V. The wartime film received an appropriately stirring accompaniment from William Walton, who by 1943 had completed his maturation from Bad Boy of the British avant-garde to establishment composer of earnest concerti and Elgaresque coronation marches. His pseudo-Renaissance dance airs in the Prologue and Epilogue found Tamarkin’s orchestra at its most sprightly, while the intervening battle sequences, culminating in the charge at Agincourt, conveyed a tense glory for which the brass and full percussion sections deserve particular credit. The performance as a whole made a case for this soundtrack score as stand-alone music, hardly needing the enhancement of narrator Thadd McQuade’s readings from the play.

Tamarkin saved the best for last, leading her musicians through a vast emotional territory in selections from one of the greatest of all ballets, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (1935). Their playing was incisive and ominous in “The Montagues and Capulets,” playful in “The Child Juliet,” demonically mercurial in “The Death of Tybalt.” Along with the woodwinds, the brass again shone throughout, with memorable solo work from trumpeter Paul Neebe, French horn Dwight Purvis and bassoonist Ibby Roberts in the meditative “Friar Lawrence.” The strings sang out robustly in the tragic conclusion, “Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb.”

The Symphony season continues March 17 and 18 with “Voices of Spring,” featuring Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov and the Poulenc Gloria with the University Singers.

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