When you say “Mozart,” what adjectives come to mind? Serene? Elegant? Giddy? Precise? The great thing about him is that the exact opposite can be true, depending on what music you pick. He can be sentimental, emotional, gracious and playful.
That’s what concertgoers who nearly packed Belk Theater Friday night heard in his Sinfonia Concertante. (Yes, nearly packed. And the orchestra level is almost full for Saturday’s repeat of the show.) Violinist Calin Ovidiu Lupanu and violist Benjamin Geller explored the wide range of color in the work, from the gently flowing opening through the heartfelt andante to the merry finale.
Mozart loved violas – his remarkable string quintets have two – and he made the soloists equal partners in this early masterpiece. He wrote it at 23, less than a year after his beloved mother had died and his bank account had shrunk, but worldly concerns never intrude. The two men, both principals in the Charlotte Symphony, were in sync throughout and made Mozart’s points attractively.
Music director Christopher Warren-Green features Lupanu as a soloist each season. This time he gave his concertmaster two pieces he recorded himself as a soloist with the London Chamber Orchestra years ago: the Sinfonia Concertante and Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” which opened the night.
George Herbert’s poem inspired the composer; it speaks of human battle and toil as well as celestial aspirations, and Vaughan Williams wrote his piece at the start of World War I. So it’s fitting for the soloist to give the bird a yearning, even mournful quality before it swirls upward into the sky, and Lupanu did.
After intermission, Warren-Green conducted a well-proportioned Symphony No. 1 by Brahms. He took time to dwell on subtle beauties without dawdling, yet located the drama in the weighty opening movement. In the peaceful andante, associate concertmaster Joseph Meyer subbed for Lupanu and delivered the brief solos with a sweet tone.
Though the orchestra dragged its feet in the third movement, it gained steam in the finale. Warren-Green likes to approach a section that starts slowly and builds to an allegro by taking extra time with the introduction, then propelling the orchestra forward with sudden vigor; that approach suits this symphony.
The music’s mood was broken for a bit between movements one and two, when some chowderhead’s cellphone sounded through the hall. After three rings, Warren-Green turned and said, “Answer it! It might be Brahms.” If so, old Johannes was probably calling with a word of praise.