Lawrence Toppman

Charlotte Symphony’s ‘Valentine:’ Love, loss and longing

Roughly half the numbers in the Charlotte Symphony pops concert “A Symphonic Valentine” are about relationships that end in death, loneliness or separation – possibly the influence of the stars over a concert done on Friday the 13th, but likelier a sign that some of the greatest romantic themes come from movies where protagonists part (“Gone With the Wind”), pine (“Unchained Melody,” deprived here of its middle section) or pass away (“My Heart Will Go On”).

Roger Kalia conducted the orchestra as if these were indeed classic pieces of music, sometimes abetted by the fluidly swinging Noel Freidline Trio.

After the initial zip of Leonard Bernstein’s overture to “West Side Story,” the programming usually fell into two categories: sweeping, string-driven melodies and warmly sentimental songs.

Even the first movement of Karl Jenkins’ “Palladio,” familiar from a commercial for DeBeers diamonds, had a soft grain. But what else might one expect or desire from a Valentine’s show where each ticket-buyer got a small bag of candy hearts?

Kalia made room for two strong soloists from his orchestra: flugelhorn player John Parker, improvising elegantly with the trio on “Embraceable You,” and violinist Joseph Meyer, who added dignified schmaltz to a Carlos Gardel tango.

His players had a curious relationship with pianist Freidline, bassist Billy Thornton and drummer Rick Dior.

Numbers often started with lush arrangements, suddenly snapped into midtempo for the trio, then went back to the first tempo or all the way uptempo for trio and orchestra together.

When that worked smoothly, as in “My Funny Valentine,” it went down like a well-aged brandy.

Kalia gave welcome information about almost all the numbers – he’s engaging as a master of ceremonies – and told even this old film critic something he didn’t know. (Max Steiner wasn’t the only composer working on “Gone With the Wind,” though the backup music didn’t get used.)

The only piece that seemed perfunctory Friday was the most optimistic: the wedding march from Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” But as the author of that play wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And the saddest songs often stick longest in the memory.

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