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It seemed as though Carnegie Hall had come to the First Baptist Church in Hickory for the final concert of Western Piedmont Symphony's smashing 44th season. Although not billed as such, the concert consisted entirely of works composed in the twentieth century.
The concert opened with a charming piece by Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) called Mala suita (Little Suite). Lutoslawski, who was from Poland, based this four-part work on folk melodies from a village east of Cracow. Each of the sections – fife, polka, song, and dance – is a wonderful little thematic work, filled with jazz influences. The orchestra played with great vigor and beauty.
Closing the program was Symphony No. 7, "Angel of Light," by Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928). To the composer, every angel is terrifying, not the kind we see in children's stories, and this is reflected in the music, especially in the violent forces of the second movement. There is a hymn-like theme which is heard in all four movements, although very subtly at times.
The first movement starts with a shimmer of strings, and builds into long surges of sound, which lead to the second, boisterous and wild movement. This proceeds, without a break, into the slow movement, a dream-like vision that ends with a singing violin solo, rendered with great beauty by concertmaster Blake Espy. The finale opens with brass chords, which rise higher and higher, until light overcomes darkness, and the hymn theme resounds through the entire orchestra and then dies away. Again, the orchestra provided beautiful playing with a lustrous, sparkling tone.
The concert's tour de force, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), came in between, with Frederick Moyer as piano soloist. Mr. Moyer has been a concert pianist for 25 years and has performed widely throughout the United States and internationally to great acclaim. He is also at home playing jazz and is a member of the Jazz Arts Trio.
Rachmaninoff filled this concerto with a number of beautiful themes, especially in the second movement. He also wrote a very demanding piano part, requiring prodigious skills. It was in this part of the program that one seemed to be in Carnegie Hall. Both soloist and orchestra were at their absolute best. Mr. Moyer played with exceptional beauty and dazzling virtuosity, and the orchestra followed suit. The strings seemed doubled in numbers, and with the winds, filled the hall with waves of beautiful sound, with Mr. Moyer's piano singing out on top of it all. This was, perhaps, one of the best piano performances of this concerto that I have ever heard.
The 45th season of the Western Piedmont Symphony returns to P. E. Monroe Auditorium on the Campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University, and promises to be every bit as exciting as was this season.