Who said that serious symphonic works had to be scheduled only during evening hours? At least no one told the North Carolina Symphony. And the word apparently did not get to Resident Conductor William Henry Curry. On a blustery and bright Friday High Noon, Meymandi Concert Hall was the site of just such a venture. There these players and conductor treated a near-full house to three Tchaikovsky symphonic numbers that were just as blustery and bright as the crisp weather.
The brief and rowdy “Cossack Dance” from the opera Mazeppa came on first. Although not as common as some of the composer’s other short orchestral gems, say, “Marche Slav” or “Capriccio Italien,” it provided similar animation.
The audience was treated to a real rarity: The world premiere of Curry’s orchestration of the “Military March,” a piece the composer wrote for piano. Curry’s masterly work here is well described in the program notes. “Tchaikovsky left the original march without a bridge between the sections and without a coda. Curry, in orchestrating the march, fleshed out the missing parts with fanfares from Tchaikovsky’s incidental music to Hamlet, and from the coronation scene to his opera The Maid of Orleans.” The resulting sound was “pure” exciting Tchaikovsky. That is, like those satisfying sounds that emanated from your latest “hi-fi” acquisition as you demonstrated it to all your envious (and tolerant) friends. Here was a pleasing collaboration between composer and later arranger, a culmination that deserves wide exposure.
The Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 is the first of Tchaikovsky’s “big three” symphonies (and arguably the most “sonic” of the three). Any hearing of this masterpiece is likely to resurrect memories of Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphians with their great recording in the early days of stereophonic sound. Measured against that standard, these performers did not disappoint. The brass fanfare opening of the complicated first movement presaged the stirring developments to come. This Andante sostenuto movement employed multiple themes, sometimes to the point of tedium. (It constitutes almost half of the entire symphony.) But the resolution at length arrived to relief and overall satisfaction.
The second and third movements featured appealing woodwinds, pizzicato strings and dance tunes. The Finale: Allegro con fuoco was rousing and sensational, a fitting close to the work and to the still-young afternoon.
In his introductory remarks preceding the aforementioned “Military March,” Curry quipped that here was a piece by Tchaikovsky, with a little help from a friend. It’s just possible that the great Russian composer never had a better friend than William Henry Curry.