An evening of compelling contrasts

There would be a quick-and-easy way to sum up the concert Thierry Fischer led with the Charlotte Symphony: You'd give him credit for being so subtle with Gabriel Faure's “Requiem” and then making Hector Berlioz's “Fantastic Symphony” so vivid. A neat double play.

That would be correct and well-deserved, but it wouldn't really do justice to what Fischer and the orchestra did Friday night.

Yes, Faure's “Requiem” – probably the kindest and gentlest setting of the Catholic mass for the dead – needs a deft hand. And Berlioz's musical pictures of drug-induced hallucinations cry out for crying out. But to be really compelling, each of them really deserves more.

Fischer and the orchestra – along with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte in Faure – saw to it.

The sweet tone of the choir's women, the mellowness of its men and the gentle halos of string sound represented only one facet of the “Requiem” on Friday – albeit the one that appeared most often. But even then, Fischer sometimes led everyone to open up a little and inject the prayers with fervor. Sometimes he gave the music a sturdier tread – lending it seriousness without turning it solemn. The music gained a more personal side from the soloists: Soprano Ilana Davidson gave the “Pie Jesu” an almost childlike gleam, and baritone Philip Cutlip had a voice with equal parts gravity and warmth. And in the one section that evokes a day of judgment, Fischer spurred chorus and orchestra to one surge of unabashed, booming theatrics.

The “Fantastic Symphony” had theatrics galore – from the jabs of the strings as they introduced the manic main theme to the whirling end of the ball scene to the snarls, rumbles and chattering of the “Witches' Sabbath.” Even when the orchestra was hard-pressed to deliver, the results were electric. Yet Fischer started the ball's waltz with an airiness that was charm personified. And the strings sang out in the “Scene in the Country” as smoothly as anyone did in the “Requiem.” Fischer made every moment count.