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Charlotte Symphony’s Russian concert a rich three-course meal

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

Some concerts are macrocosms, leaping across time and borders. Some are microcosms, such as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra gig Friday at Belk Theater. The CSO played three works composed by Russians over less than 30 years, though the musical distance among them was wider than you’d think.

Master orchestrator Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov kept both feet in the Romantic Era with his resplendent Russian Easter Overture of 1888. Stravinsky, a bridge between the late 19th century and the mid-20th, moved forward in 1911 with his beautiful/barbaric “Petrushka.” (The CSO played the 1947 reworking, which uses fewer instruments.) And Sergei Prokofiev’s accessible but sometimes tricky Violin Concerto No. 1 showed where music in the Soviet Union was headed after the revolution of 1917.

Soloist Calin Ovidiu Lupanu, the CSO’s concertmaster, set the tone in the concerto from the start: tenderness and beauty, no matter how aggressive the music became. Music director Christopher Warren-Green accompanied sensitively, getting the most hushed pianissimos I’ve heard from the CSO. The second movement was more passionate than playful; the third returned to the sweetly moving mood of the opening.

Lupanu reserved playfulness for his finger-twisting encore, Paganini’s 21st caprice. (If you go, you’ll be tempted to clap midway through that piece. Do not.)

Associate concertmaster Joseph Meyer played a warm violin solo of his own in the overture, where Warren-Green balanced the gravity of melodies borrowed from the Russian Orthodox Church with the gaiety of “unbridled pagan merrymaking,” as Rimsky described it. Few pieces give the second trombone player a moment to shine, but this one does, and Tom Burge seized it joyfully.

More than a dozen soloists shared the limelight in “Petrushka.” (When it’s not accompanied by dancing, you can see how Stravinsky assembled it.) The ballet looks back to mysterious fairy-tale romanticism in his “Firebird” and forward to fast-changing rhythms in his “Rite of Spring.”

New principal trumpet John Parker provided the cheeky, plaintive voice of its title character, a puppet denied love and eventually slain with a scimitar. But the whole ensemble sounded stronger than usual as it rollicked through the bright yet often menacing music.

The CSO repeats the Russian concert Saturday at 8 p.m. at Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets: $19.50-$85.50. Call 704-972-2000 or go to www.charlottesymphony.org .

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