Lawrence Toppman

Jaw-dropping Rachmaninov by Paremski, Charlotte Symphony

Natasha Paremski solos terrifically in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
Natasha Paremski solos terrifically in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Courtesy of Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

I doubt Natasha Paremski can play the piano with her elbows. (I saw Jerry Lee Lewis do that once. It was cool.) But on the evidence of her performance Friday night in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, there’s not much else she can’t do at a keyboard.

She had a wide array of weapons in her arsenal: a muscular assurance in loud passages, delicacy in quiet ones, trills and runs where she delineated each note, cataclysmic cadenzas, skittering playfulness where Rachmaninov smiled and fireworks where he frowned. Prodigious technique freed her to make interesting interpretive choices, and nothing fazed her.

You could see why the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra stood to acknowledge her before she had played a note and – even more of a tribute – stared at her in fascination when they weren’t playing. (That’s rarer than you might think.) She soared into the final movement with Horowitz-style speed and attack, then ratcheted up the intensity another notch for her encore, a percussive dash through the last movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata. Then, rather than find an ice bucket for her fingers, she signed CDs at intermission.

The CSO, inspired by her adrenaline, produced an unusually lush string sound to support her. Her fleet tempos suited the musicians, who raced along comfortably with her to the last crashing chord.

Anything but an apocalypse might have been an anticlimax, but Christopher Warren-Green and the orchestra sustained the energy level in Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”).

The two pieces have much in common: They’re both about 50 minutes long, both emotion-laden, both written by old-fashioned Eastern Europeans just as Romanticism in music was about to pass away – the concerto in 1909, the symphony in 1893 – and both had world premieres in New York City. (Dvorak had emigrated from Bohemia to head the National Conservatory of Music; Rachmaninov was touring the country to which he’d emigrate eight years later, after the Russian Revolution.)

But where Rachmaninov sweeps us away like a towering wave, Dvorak washes more gently over us. Warren-Green brought vigor to the three exciting movements, as the horns played with extra assurance and brio. And where Dvorak paused to muse in the famous largo – later turned into the hymn “Goin’ Home” – the conductor gave the music time to breathe and the audience time to reflect. (Terry Maskin supplied the attractive English horn solos.)

This concert, along with an earlier performance this season of Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben,” showed what the orchestra can sound like when everything falls into place at once. Do not pass it by.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Christopher Warren-Green conducts Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”) and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, with soloist Natasha Paremski.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $19-89. All moms get in free on Mother's Day with purchase of a full-price ticket. $15 to anyone 25 or younger with student ID.

DETAILS: 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.

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