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Stewart Theatre at North Carolina State University was the setting for a well-named program, “Romantic Adventures.” A presentation of Music @ NC State, the offerings constituted a fine mix of the genre. Conductor Randolph Foy and the Raleigh Civic Symphony chose samples from Germany, Hungary and Spain.
Opening the festivities was the Tragic Overture, Op. 81, of Brahms. One had to admire the authority with which Foy and the players launched into this magisterial work. The program notes advised that the University of Breslau, at about the time of this overture, had declared Brahms “the most famous living German composer…” The power of the music seemed to justify that honor. (It is not reported just what Wagner, himself a rather noteworthy German composer, thought of the matter.) One could question the “Tragic” nature of the piece. But its solemn drama cannot be denied. The quality of the playing was astonishing. It would have required a sharp ear to distinguish between this group and numerous other more noted ensembles.
Olga Kleiankina is a new member of the music faculty at NC State. This Moldova native, by her performance of Liszt’s Concerto No. 2 in A for Piano and Orchestra, demonstrated why she constitutes such a major enhancement to the Triangle music scene. Perhaps not many would list this work among their favorite concertos, but it does contain fireworks aplenty, and it allows the soloist to provide quite a show. The pianist’s agile fingers proved equal to the huge demands of the six movements, played without break. Duos early in the piece for piano and cello, and to a lesser extent with oboe and flute, made for charming contrasts to the mostly turbulent action.
As a pre-intermission encore, Kleiankina rewarded the audience with a solo work. She played NC State Music Director Mark Scearce’s “Guernica,” a Ballet for Solo Piano. This disturbing and appealing piece, premiered earlier this season, contained the stark contrasts of beauty and unspeakable outrage that one associates with the history of that quaint and tragic Basque town, a village whose wanton destruction by the Nazis in 1937 inspired one of Picasso’s most celebrated paintings. (Both piano works were played on a Bösendorfer Concert Grand provided by Ruggero Piano of Raleigh.)
The Suite from Manuel de Falla’s ballet, The Three Cornered Hat, constituted the second half of the program. This 1919 music, while programmatic, was mostly meant for good fun with its Spanish dances — fandangos, seguidillas, and others. Getting in on the fun was the clowning bassoon, along with the oboes at times.
If you wanted your romanticism along with top-notch artistry, from light to heavy, Stewart Theatre was the place to spend a lovely afternoon.
Note: Olga Kleiankina will present a Faculty Recital at NCSU’s Stewart Theatre on November 19 at 7:00 p.m. See our Triangle calendar for details.