Joseph Haydn’s new/old concerto gets its day

02/07/2014 11:30 PM

02/07/2014 11:31 PM

Sixty years ago, no orchestra in the world could have given the concert the Charlotte Symphony did Friday night.

Before 1961, Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C was lost. Haydn himself had acquired the reputation of a moldy fig with audiences, as jazz musicians of the era used to say, though people could hear a handful of his string quartets and perhaps two dozen of his 104 symphonies.

Then a copy of the concerto surfaced in Prague. Suddenly folks realized Haydn wasn’t a long-lived guy who composed for half a century and mostly knocked out masterpieces near the end: He had something vital to say in his late 20s and early 30s, when he wrote this concerto.

Alan Black, the orchestra’s principal cellist, took the solo role at Belk Theater. He landed somewhere between the austere sound of period instruments and the romantic interpretation of Mstislav Rostropovich, who championed it after its resurgence. Black neatly balanced the extroverted outer movements and the inward-looking middle one, and he handled the fleet finale with a light, sure touch.

He also played cadenzas that Benjamin Britten wrote for his pal, Rostropovich. They brought the piece briefly into the 20th century; those three minutes came across as a deep thought out of nowhere, a sudden glimpse of the cello’s future. (Britten wrote three fine suites for solo cello.)

The evening had a double dose of Britten, whose 100th birthday in November has influenced programming this season. Music director Christopher Warren-Green began with Four Sea Episodes from “Peter Grimes,” the finest opera composed by an Englishman and one which, sadly, has never been performed here. The woodwinds shimmered to reflect the unquiet sea; the strings quivered in the wind blowing off the coast near Grimes’ fishing village, and the entire orchestra blazed through the climactic storm.

Warren-Green capped the night with Robert Schumann’s Third Symphony. It’s known as the Rhenish because he wrote it after visiting the Rhine River area with his wife, Clara; Schumann witnessed the investiture of a cardinal at the cathedral in Cologne, and some commentators think they hear the echoes of that ceremony in the ringing brass of the fourth movement.

Schumann loved horns, perhaps more than any 19th-century composer. (He wrote a concerto for four of them, and it’s one of his jolliest pieces.) The CSO’s horn section played with as much vitality and beauty as I’ve heard it produce, and the brass section backed them solidly.

Warren-Green introduced the piece by noting Schumann’s manic-depressive nature and said, “He wrote this when he was manic.” But the music doesn’t call for frenzy; the prevailing mood is buoyancy, with Schumann recollecting a vacation in tranquility. Warren-Green followed it with the sixth Hungarian Dance by Brahms, who was one of Schumann’s finds. That piece did have a manic quality in the fast parts and a dreamy lassitude in the slow ones.

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