The Argentinian Alberto Ginastera forged one of the great compositional styles of the mid-20th century. A Stravinskian grit of biting harmonies with cut-and-paste construction melded with Argentinian folk elements and an eclectic mix of tonal and atonal impulses.
His Harp Concerto (1956-1965) stands as one of his masterpieces.
Emily Levin, principal harpist of the Dallas Symphony, navigated its complexity with poise in the West Virginia Symphony’s Casual Concert, Saturday afternoon at St. Marks United Methodist Church.
The opening movement sounded barbed and spry with those biting harmonies and rapidly changing meters giving the music force and surprise. Levin was particularly adept at blending the swirling textures of the harp with the hovering, eerie harmonies of the orchestra.
The quieter passages, where Ginastera turns more to the pace and gestures of folk music, were exquisite in detail and affective warmth.
The somber middle movement, which sounds almost like a harbinger of the stormy world of John Corigliano’s music, was dark and rich in flickering bits of texture. Levin’s playing of the low range of the harp yielded intense, chocolaty tones peeking through the rumination of the basses and cellos.
Levin built palpable suspense in the sweeping cadenza that joins the last two movements.
The explosive beginning of the finale, a Stravinskian shriek, launched extensive dialogues between the harp and a quartet of percussionists, playing multiple drums, bells, xylophone, gong and cymbals, and timpani. Levin and percussionists Matt Larson, Dan Zawodniak, Alyson Rzeszotarski and Elizabeth Procopio and timpanist Lauren Floyd played with spirit and dazzling precision.
Rossini’s Overture to “The Italian Girl in Algiers” began with the soft plucking of the strings over which principal oboist Lorraine Dorsey etched a plaintive tune with glowing tone. The typical Rossinian mirth followed with darting strings and cogent solo work by Dorsey, principal flute Lindsey Goodman and the rest of the woodwinds..
Conductor Lawrence Loh favored driving rhythmic energy which lent clarity to the form.
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, “Italian,” scurried a bit in its rapid, perpetually moving violin melodies at the start.
The slow movement was beautiful in the cozy, vivid detail of its inner parts of woodwinds and violas over the chugging walk of the low strings.
The minuet — a precursor to the autumnal intermezzos of Brahms but without the big changes in meter and tempo — twisted and floated lyrically in the strings. The bassoons, brass and timpani were elegant in the fanfares of the trio section.
The finale, “Saltarello,” is unusual in Mendelssohn, a bare-bones structure with little of the expansive fantasy so typical of his music. Loh drew crisp triplet rhythms and neat balances.