We've long passed the point at which roughly every concert in Charlotte gets a standing ovation. If an orchestra spotlights a soloist in a concerto, then plays a big symphonic work, audiences will usually get on their feet at the end of each. Now we've moved on to two and a half ovations.
The Charlotte Symphony's audience just couldn't hold itself back Friday night. After the orchestra and its first-chair violinist, Calin Ovidiu Lupanu, polished off the flourish that ends the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto's first movement, the audience launched into applause. Some of Lupanu's colleagues in the orchestra did, too. Then, sure enough, a goodly part of the crowd got up from their seats. Conductor Christopher Warren-Green gave everyone time to express themselves, then - smiling good-naturedly - motioned for everyone to settle down and let Tchaikovsky go on.
Well, Lupanu did play it with gusto. In the first movement's flamboyant but treacherous double-note flourishes, he occasionally landed a little off the mark. But for the most part, his hearty sound, dynamism and suave way with tunes let him revel in Tchaikovsky's theatrics. And in the little song that makes up the slow movement, Lupanu showed that Tchaikovsky can be powerful even when the scale is small. A little swell here or a little pullback there was enough to bring out the music's soul.
Lupanu's gutsy tone had so much projection that Warren-Green and the orchestra had plenty of latitude to deal in broad strokes alongside him, and they took advantage of it - especially in the finale. It capped things off with Russian-dance lustiness.
The orchestra had even more room to be dramatic in the rest of the program, which was devoted to "Romeo and Juliet." Tchaikovsky's overture started the night; excerpts from Prokofiev's ballet ended it.
In Tchaikovsky's overture, Warren-Green had his mind on more than just a famous melody. Rather than let the opening sound like the musical equivalent of a simple "once-upon-a-time," he gave it a breadth and quietness that lent it tension. So when the lyricism and storminess finally came along, they were all the more potent. While a couple of those subdued spots sounded thin - showing that the orchestra has work to do there - the chorus of woodwinds in the epilogue had just the right tenderness.
There was even more tenderness in the "Balcony Scene" from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet": The mellifluous flutes and silvery, translucent strings set the moonlit scene instantly. And the music expanded broadly from there - right up to the shout-from-the-rooftops surges of the full orchestra, with French horns and trumpets pealing at the climax.
The orchestra may not have had every dashing note exactly in place in "The Child Juliet," but the aura of excitement and innocence still came through. While the cellos laid into their big moment in "Friar Laurence" enthusiastically, there was only so much they could do: It takes more than seven players to really put the lyricism across.
But the orchestra's dash and crispness put across all the charisma of the "Dance of the Five Couples." And the force of the orchestra's brasses helped "Death of Tybalt" end things with a wallop.