Symphony makes 'Bolero' a sonic juggernaut

Before he launched the Charlotte Symphony into Ravel's "Bolero" on Friday, Christopher Warren-Green offered up a couple of tidbits about it to the audience.

Even though Ravel had Spain in mind, he said, people aren't really so wrong if they think of Bo Derek instead. The ballet that originally went with the music did include a sequence for a voluptuous woman. Secondly: Ravel loved the sound of factories, Warren-Green said, and the conductor thinks that comes through in the music, too.

That last part was news to me. But it makes sense - maybe for different reasons than Warren-Green had in mind. Orchestral musicians aren't necessarily wired to make Ravel's much-repeated melody glide along as sleekly as Bo or a ballerina. But as the nonstop drumbeat keeps building and Ravel sets loose more and more roar around it, players really know how to dig in to that, and they give you a sonic juggernaut.

That's how it was Friday night, when "Bolero" capped off a night of music inspired by Spain. As the players took their turns with that slinky tune, most of them treated it pretty politely. Suddenly the soprano saxophone - played by a guest - gave its solo a little extra zing, and that put everything else into perspective. (Maybe musicians should let Bo Derek inspire them more.) But the assembly line moved resolutely, and the orchestra built to a booming finish.

'Capriccio Espagnol'

The orchestra also dug into the flashy parts of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol" and a suite from Manuel de Falla's "Three-Cornered Hat." But it was in the not-so-booming spots that Warren-Green put more of a stamp on the music and the orchestra.

When the "Capriccio" turned lyrical, the players weren't the only ones who sang out; Warren-Green stirred up others, too. The string parts that harmonized with the tune welled up, too, making the music richer and more ardent. In the "Miller's Dance" from "Three-Cornered Hat," the music was light, spontaneous and buoyant. Warren-Green obviously had gotten all the players engaged.

Calin Ovidiu Lupanu, the orchestra's concertmaster, did yeoman service. First, he played with the orchestra in "Capriccio Espagnol," tossing off the fiddle solos with zest. Then he took center stage in two showpieces by Pablo de Sarasate, "Gypsy Airs" and the "Carmen Fantasy." A few stratospheric flourishes didn't fire off right. But for the most part, Lupanu treated the music to dash, red-bloodedness and healthy doses of gypsy fire. And the orchestra, led by ex-fiddler Warren-Green, backed him up with spirit.