The Washington Post – by Charles T. Downey
The Castleton Festival struggles on in Rappahannock County, a year after the death of its founder, Lorin Maazel. The programming is sharply reduced, with jazz taking over from classical music for the final two weeks, and all performances open with pleas for donations. A smaller, less-assured orchestra, made up of young apprentice players bolstered by professional ringers in some first chairs, gave the last of just three concerts of symphonic music on Sunday afternoon in the Castleton Festival Theater.
Maazel’s absence at the podium is the festival’s biggest problem, as his young protégés lack his gravitas and depth of knowledge. Fabio Luisi, who jets back and forth among jobs in New York, Zurich, and soon Copenhagen, stepped in to right the rudder for this performance, yielding strong but not extraordinary results. Luisi elicited some gossamer sounds from the orchestra in Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, stylishly accompanying the delicately articulated playing of soloist Alessandro Taverna. The Fugato section of the challenging third movement was not perfectly coordinated, but it was fireworks enough for the crowd to demand an encore, the jazzy toccata from Friedrich Gulda’s “Play Piano Play.”
The programming did not push the players much in terms of stylistic variety, concluding with more romance-period music in Brahms’s second symphony. Luisi kept the first movement’s tempo at a pleasing moderato, pushing the pace only in the development section, enough so that the movement ran to just under 20 minutes, even with the repeat of the exposition that some conductors omit. The piece put the able young principal horn player in the spotlight and is the only one of the composer’s four symphonies to have a part for tuba, played here by a veteran musician. The second movement was most successful, in its graceful second theme especially, and the scherzo was feather-light.