As befits a pre-Valentines Day program, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert Friday at Belk Theater brimmed with affection.
Christopher Warren-Green conducted a work hed likely take to a desert island, Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme By Thomas Tallis.
CSO principal violist Rebekah Newman held the spotlight as soloist in William Waltons Viola Concerto, a piece she admires and, through her playing, made us appreciate it too.
And the audience responded as it always does to Peter Tchaikovskys melodic Symphony No. 5, performed with as little schmaltz as possible.
A well-traveled aficionado couldve attended premieres of all three: the Fifth Symphony in 1888, the Tallis Fantasia in 1910 and the Viola Concerto in 1929. But though these pieces span just 41 years, they represent distinct approaches: Tchaikovskys heart-on-sleeve romanticism, Vaughan Williams updating of British tradition (Tallis composed for Queen Elizabeth I) and Waltons Jazz Age energy and slightly spiky harmonies.
Warren-Green opened with the Fantasia. He grew up listening to Sir John Barbirollis lush version from the 1960s, then made a crisper recording with the London Chamber Orchestra in the late 80s. The CSOs rendition reminded me of Barbirollis: Waves of sound, ebbing and flowing, diminishing at last as imperceptibly and peacefully as the sun going down. (Ive never seen him hold so long at the start of a piece for silence, until total stillness could be achieved.)
Newman seemed nervous at the opening of the Walton. When she wasnt playing, she handled a resin bag like a pitcher on the mound during a World Series. But she neednt have been: Her anxiety didnt transmit itself to her fingers.
She and the ensemble found the proper balance to convey Waltons moods: She was reflective and lyrical, they robust and brash. The brisk second movement seemed to free her up, and she came into her own during the long, serene finale.
Warren-Green has a distinct vision of this Tchaikovsky symphony: He opens every movement slowly and gives extra weight to each. This provides a dignity and grandeur Tchaikovsky doesnt always get; the music is meditative, rather than agitated, and we hear all the little touches for winds and strings. At the same time, the waltz ceases to be dancelike, the slow movement threatens to lose its shape, and our pulses dont ever quicken until the end of the finale.
He rounded the concert off with two things. One was a flowing encore taken from Vaughan Williams opera Sir John in Love. (The audience cooed when it heard the music it knew as Greensleeves.)
The other was a curtain speech in which he thanked us for coming to hear the Walton (chuckles from the crowd) and asked us to trust him when he selects music we dont know well. He has earned that trust.
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