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Charlotte Symphony: Partly poetic, partly pastoral

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Charlotte Symphony

    This Classics concert offers Butterworth’s “Banks of Green Willow,” Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and Finghin Collins as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21.

    WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

    WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

    TICKETS: You’ll be waiting for turnbacks at this point.

    DETAILS:

    704-972-2000.


The booking snafu that sent the Charlotte Symphony over to Knight Theater this week had two unintended effects.

It made the season’s third Classics concert – the first one ever done there in that series – an amazingly hot ticket: Friday and Saturday’s concerts have sold out in the smaller hall, though you may be able to get returned seats at this point.

And it reminded us that, as the British say, there are horses for courses. You couldn’t cram a Mahler-sized orchestra into the Knight, unless you put some musicians among the audience. But the players required to navigate Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 fit comfortably and produced a satisfying sound.

Irish pianist Finghin Collins could make the quietest notes count in the Mozart or his encore, a nocturne by countryman John Field. Twittering birds in Beethoven’s “scene at the brook” made their full effect. (The woodwinds, mounted on their platform, really carry at the Knight. They can even be a bit overpowering.)

If anything linked pieces in the program, it was the composers’ relative youthfulness: All three main works were written between the ages of 28 and 37, by men who never saw 60. (Neither did Field.) This is amiable music, neither sky-storming nor depth-delving.

George Butterworth’s curtain-raiser, a short tone poem titled “The Banks of Green Willow,” gently set up a pastoral atmosphere with wisps of folk melody. Beethoven re-established that mood with his Pastoral Symphony after intermission, and conductor Christopher Warren-Green quickly established a feeling of mellow jauntiness. Beethoven’s storm didn’t terrify us (nor does it need to): It cleared the air for a warmhearted song of rejoicing, rather than deliverance.

Between those pieces came Collins, a lanky and long-armed poet who ran through three distinct moods in Mozart. Old-timers will recall it as the “Elvira Madigan” concerto, because its central theme was used in that melancholy Swedish movie 46 years ago.

Collins handled the first section with high spirits and elegance. He shifted into a dreamy reverie in the slow second movement, and those same old-timers probably considered it better suited to Schumann (whose music Collins has recorded to high praise). The third movement alternated between the playfulness Mozart packs into his finales and a “look how fast I can play!” exuberance that occasionally muddied the themes.

Then Collins settled back down to poetry in his encore, reminding us that Field invented the nocturne. Chopin may have perfected that form, but the Irish composer got there first with just as much feeling.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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