Lawrence Toppman

Delightful Dvorak dominates a diffuse concert

Oboist Gordon Hunt joins his old friend, conductor Christopher Warren-Green, with the Charlotte Symphony this weekend.
Oboist Gordon Hunt joins his old friend, conductor Christopher Warren-Green, with the Charlotte Symphony this weekend. Courtesy of Charlotte Symphony

Is there any composer happier than Dvorak? All three of his concertos (cello, violin and piano) start in minor keys but gravitate toward bliss. So do his minor-key symphonies, including one the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra played eloquently Friday night at Belk Theater: No. 7, the first of an amazing symphonic trio.

He didn’t revolutionize his art, didn’t start trends, didn’t create forms. Maybe that’s why my college music teacher said, “I don’t know who belongs in the first rank of composers, but Dvorak leads the second.” He simply gave pleasure consistently over four decades of composition before dying at 62.

He likes to move from darkness to light, from somberness to merriment, and he does that in his D Minor symphony. Only in the final movement do we get to joy; along the way, the music is mysterious, wistful, dancelike with a hint of melancholy. For all the sad influences in his life – the Czechs’ political struggle for freedom, the recent death of his mother and earlier death of his eldest child – he ends with a blaze of affirmation. “What is in my mind,” he wrote a friend, “is Love, God, and my Fatherland."

Music director Christopher Warren-Green drew many hues from his orchestra, and the strings especially responded with clear, sharp attacks during the fervent passages. Yet the slow introduction held together, building the tension toward an early storm.

This was a night for eruptions. Warren-Green began with the brief but explosive overture to “The Tempest,” Thomas Adés’ opera based on Shakespeare. The overture consists mostly of huge jagged chords and clamorous outbursts, until a tentative calm settles over Prospero’s troubled island.

Warren-Green and his old friend, oboist Gordon Hunt, collaborated on Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto as the middle piece. Hunt’s technique and tone held strong; his sound, sweet but with the tiniest edge of astringency, suits Strauss’ music, which so often gives the sensation of cream puffs just on the brink of turning sour. (He wrote a two-act ballet called “Schlagobers,” or “Whipped Cream,” about children who overindulge in a pastry shop until one hallucinates.)

This concerto, sometimes seen as a throwback to Mozart, comes to fullest expression in the final rondo. Mozart loved to end concertos with that repeating form, and Hunt sailed happily through permutations of the most significant melody in the piece.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Want to go?

The Charlotte Symphony repeats the program Saturday at 8 p.m. in Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets are $19-$180. 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.

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