By Eric Meyer Special at Post-Dispatch
Mixing genres may seem like a contemporary practice, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did it a long time ago. His “Sinfonia Concertante”, the wonderful centerpiece of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s “Airs and Dances” concert this weekend at Powell Hall, is a hybrid of symphony and concerto.
Mozart encountered the genre during a 1779 trip to Paris and Mannheim, Germany. His version gave him more freedom with the sounds and musical ideas. One was exemplified by the spirited – and even – partnership between SLSO soloists Xiaoxiao Qiang on violin and Shannon Williams on viola.
Soon in the first movement, the soloists emerged from the sublime orchestral texture with transcendent charm. From the start of their solo work, the lyrical exchanges between Qiang and Williams – and between them and the orchestra – established a lucid dialogue that never died out.
Assistant conductor Stephanie Childress provided energetic tempos and held the SLSO strings in full control throughout the two quick movements.
The slow, particularly tender second movement left adequate space for what was to be the most compassionate exchange between violin and viola in the repertoire. The cadence here went wonderfully – at one point, as the exchange between soloists intensified, Qiang’s ornamentation on the violin aligned in sympathy with Williams’ chromatic rise on the viola.