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Music review: A program on literary themes at the SLSO
Sir Andrew Davis
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
This weekend’s concerts by the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and Orchestra featured one major choral work and two purely orchestral pieces. On Friday night, the well-constructed program offered excellent performances from all concerned.
This was an evening built on literary themes, two of them Shakespearean and one biblical. Guest conductor Sir Andrew Davis opened with the jolly Overture to “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the 1849 opera by Otto Nicolai.
The opera itself can’t compete with Giuseppe Verdi’s pure-genius treatment of the same material in his final score, “Falstaff,” but the overture is charming and received a fine reading from Davis and the orchestra, in its first performance by the SLSO in almost 40 years.
Another side of the “fat knight” was on display in Edward Elgar’s 1913 “symphonic study,” “Falstaff.” This is the Falstaff of Shakespeare’s history plays “Henry IV,” Parts 1 and 2, with pathos alongside the comedy.
Elgar thought “Falstaff” was his best orchestral piece. It doesn’t get much play (it hasn’t been heard at Powell Hall since 1986), but while it’s thoroughly programmatic, it’s a pleasant work, filled with humor and clever musical characterizations, along with the pathos of its protagonist’s rejection and death.
Davis found all the fun in the composition, with expert assistance from the orchestra. Particularly notable were the solo contributions of associate principal bassoon Andrew Gott, principal cello Daniel Lee and concertmaster David Halen.