The Charlottesville Symphony directed by Benjamin Rous performed “British Riches” February 15-16, 2020. The program included a variety of 20th Century UK composers. The relative rarity of the works (at least on this side of the Atlantic) made this a refreshing and engaging concert.
George Butterworth’s “A Shropshire Lad” opened the program. This symphonic rhapsody is the quintessence of prewar British music. It features lush modal harmonies and poignant folk-inspired melodies.
 
When the orchestra warmed up, they delivered a rich, full-sounding performance. But the ensemble wasn’t quite there when Maestro Rous gave the downbeat. The lower strings especially had some wobbly intonation at the beginning of the work.
 

Zachary Wilder, tenor

Fortunately, the ensemble had settled in for Britten’s Nocturne. This is a demanding work for both soloist and ensemble. Tenor Zachary Wilder gave a stellar performance. His voice had a warm, clean sound. Besides his nuanced phrasing, Wilder used his body to communicate with the audience. He seemed to be telling a story rather than singing texts from disparate poems.

 
The seven obbligato soloists were phenomenal. All displayed a high level of musicianship. The performances of Elizabeth Roberts (bassoon) and Katy Ambrose (horn) were stunning.
 
“Elegy For String Orchestra” by Grace Williams opened the second half. Like “A Shropshire Lad,” it began quietly with the lower strings exposed. This time they performed as one, serving the music well.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “On Wenlock Edge” received an enthusiastic performance. At times the orchestra threatened to overpower the tenor. Wilder seemed to adopt a different persona for each song. It worked. His singing conveyed the emotional essence of each poem.
 
Malcolm Arnold knew how to write for orchestra. And Maestro Rous and the Symphony knew how to play it. The “Tam O’Shanter Overture” had the rambunctious energy of a Highland fling. It brought the house down, and deservedly so.

Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia; Benjamin Rous, Music Director
Zachary Wilder, tenor
Saturday, February 15, 2020; Sunday, February 16, 2020

George Butterworth: A Shropshire Lad, Rhapsody for Orchestra
Benjamin Britten: Nocturne for tenor solo, seven obligato instruments and string orchestra, Op. 60
Grace Williams: Elegy for Strings
Ralph Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge
Malcolm Arnold: Tam O’Schanter Overture