Lawrence Toppman

Orchestra mingles Mozart with a 20th-century trio

British clarinetist Michael Collins makes his licorice stick sing sweetly with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
British clarinetist Michael Collins makes his licorice stick sing sweetly with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Benjamin Ealovega

Mozart had a silly sense of humor, Prokofiev a puckish wit. Lars-Erik Larsson – well, he was a Swede about whom I know nothing. Perhaps a bit dour. But they might all have been amused to share a Classics Concert with Neil Diamond.

“Sweet Caroline,” which the Carolina Panthers have adopted as a victory song, capped Friday’s Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert. It came after the gentle evocations of Larsson’s suite from “The Winter’s Tale,” the mellow merriment of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto – conveyed winningly by Michael Collins – and a second suite, this one tartly romantic, excerpted from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet. (Obviously, this was a case of suites to the “Sweet.”)

The sight of music director Christopher Warren-Green dabbing in a Panthers jersey might have been startling after, say, a Mahler symphony. But the evening was such a mixed bag of moods that Diamond’s ballad seemed a reasonable encore.

The main part of the evening was a Shakespearean bookend, music written for stories that end happily after trouble (“Winter’s Tale”) and unhappily after worse trouble (“Romeo”).

Warren-Green likes this Larsson piece; he conducted it last February with the Minnesota Orchestra, and he has made a rare recording of the full four-movement suite. Except for a bit of Sibelius-like mystery in the pastoral, it doesn’t hint at the darkness in the play: attempted murder, banishment, death and repentance. Still, it’s a pleasing opener.

Collins, an old friend who has recorded with Warren-Green’s London Chamber Orchestra, played the original orchestration for basset clarinet with lower bottom notes. They added a woody buzz, especially in the last movement, as he decorated Mozart’s irresistible melodies. The generally fast tempos didn’t prevent him from putting over a jaunty warmth, even in the floridly fast passages.

Warren-Green went for maximum contrast of dynamics and speeds in the Prokofiev, which ends thunderously with the death of Tybalt. These weren’t dance tempos, but they worked for an orchestra, and the musicians put across the astringent and reflective moments equally well. Flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead, who had enlivened the Larsson with moments of birdsong, played Prokofiev’s solos attractively.

Then came the abbreviated “Caroline,” with some members of the orchestra donning blue caps, visors and towels and the conductor showing off a Panthers jersey with a No. 1 and his name on the back – a sweet moment indeed. But why not play the whole song?

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

Tickets: $25.50-$89.50.

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

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