We seldom associate Beethoven or Stravinsky with fun: Paintings and photos show dour composers who look intolerant of criticism or dissenting opinions, artists whose faces might crack if they brought up a belly laugh.
Yet the playful side of both came out in the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s first Classics concert of the season Friday. Beethoven beamed at us through his buoyant First Piano Concerto and danced with us through his Seventh Symphony. (Or, in this rapid-fire rendition, bounced.) Stravinsky grinned amiably, then wickedly through the suite from his ballet “Pulcinella,” the first great piece from his neoclassical period and one that paid homage to the Italian commedia dell’arte.
Music director Christopher Warren-Green has always championed young, on-the-rise soloists, and Uzbekistani pianist Behzod Abduraimov (who was born in 1990) has joined that parade. Abduraimov won the 2009 London International Piano Competition, and you can see why critics have been enthusiastic: He draws extraordinary colors from the keyboard.
Beethoven’s first concerto (actually the second he wrote but the first to be published, as with Chopin) shows him learning not to be Mozart, who had died seven years earlier in 1791. Abduraimov did two things young pianists seldom do: He played extremely slowly in spots without ever losing the spine of the piece, and he never repeated a section without doing something different and interesting the second time.
His touch was precise yet flowing, delicate yet strong. (Not what I expected from a pianist who made his name with Prokofiev and Liszt.) The orchestra rose to meet him with sensitive accompaniment – it always plays better for top soloists – and then came back after intermission for a fleet, vivid Beethoven Seventh.
Warren-Green used the modern scholarship that favors fast tempos in all four movements (too fast in the dancelike second for traditionalists), and the orchestra responded with gusto. The scrappy playing at the opening of the “Pulcinella” suite – which improved and peaked with a snickering duet by trombonist Tom Burge and bassist Kurt Riecken – was long forgotten then, and the orchestra played with energy and exactitude.
Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
The CSO plays Beethoven and Stravinsky at 8 p.m. Saturday in Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets are $25.50 to $89.50. Details: 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.