Composer Stephen Paulus was beaming when he took the stage at Severance Hall last night, reflecting both the audience’s reaction to his newest work, Violin Concerto No. 3, and a fine world premiere of the piece by Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil.
Paulus and Preucil have collaborated on a dozen of the composer’s works since 1985, when Paulus was asked to write a violin concerto (his first) for Preucil, who was then concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. So it was no surprise that Preucil handled Concerto No. 3 with apparent ease and confidence, wringing powerful emotional expression out of disparate solo parts. The violinist’s style — fluid, yet pronounced — was a good fit for a straightforward neoclassical work that blended elements of Paulus’s signature melodic and aggressive techniques.
A pleasant and occasionally engaging piece, the concerto was perhaps most notable for not being a soloist showcase. The violinist gets only short, scattered outbursts in the first movement, warms up with some lyrical passages in the second, and finally gets a chance to stretch out in the third. Technically, the violin parts are not very demanding. And it was puzzling to see an extended stretch of pizzicato in the third movement, hardly the stuff of virtuoso playing.