From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 1981
Good New Concerto From David Amram
By Frank Peters
There aren't many good, audience- pleasing works for violin and orchestra - try to name a dozen. David Amram has contributed one with his violin Concerto, which had its premiere performances last weekend at the St. Louis Symphony's concerts In Powell Hall. Charles Castleman was the soloist; Leonard Slatkin conducted.
At the Sunday matinee, which I attended, Castleman's playing was excellent. He played from memory, unusual for someone taking on a brand new score. Probably the Amram concerto isn't very difficult to learn and play - it's built for the most part on diatonic themes, and the quota of left-hand pizzicatos, harmonics and doublestops is dealt with briefly in a first-movement cadenza.
It certainly Isn't difficult music to hear. It's an unpretentious piece. The second movement is a Gershwinesque blues rhapsody. The finale is made of jolly Irish tunes - things like jigs and reels. The first movement is short and has a less pronounced character, although the minor-key melodies have a bluesy quality. The whole work lasts about 25 minutes but seems shorter.
Amram shows a keen sense of timing and proportion in this music. He knows when to build and relax excitement, when to take breath, how to change pace and keep the listener's ear, as in a good conversation. It sounds elementary, but in the other new violin concerto heard in Powell hall this season, that of John Williams, one could hear the paralyzing effect of. a composer who drones away obsessively on a single emotional string.
The Tchaikovsky Fifth heard after Interrnission, was magnificent. Ten or 15 years ago we used to wince occasionally when the St. Louis Symphony worked its way through an old favorite, a "warhorse" If you like, because Philadelphia could play It so much better. Lately, however, with the consistency of the orchestra grown so much, the warhorses have given cause for jubilation. This was, indeed, a jubilant Tchaikovsky Fifth - radiantly played at all times by the whole orchestra, led by Slatkin with a sure hand. It was all there, no soft spots, no need to go home and put on a restorative Ormandy record.
This fine concert was dedicated to the memory of Sylvia King Strieby, a symphony violist who died last Wednesday after a long illness.