The North Carolina Symphony continued its season at UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium with a program consisting of three Russian works counterpoised with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Music Director Grant Llewellyn led this concert, which contained strong contrasts in style and also in the effectiveness of the performances
Borodin’s Overture to Prince Igor was first.* The dark opening was followed by full, rich tone and well-contoured phrases. However, the large buildup that came after this lacked accumulative power. That characterized the overall performance which, despite some beautiful lyrical playing, was not gripping. Climaxes ought to have been bigger, dance-like sections more rhythmically energized, dynamics more sharply contrasted.
"In the Steppes of Central Asia" by Borodin was next. The opening evoked wide-open spaces and there were lovely moments. But as in the first piece, there was a lack of overall contour. The dramatic high point in the middle of the work failed to stand out. Soaring lyrical passages didn’t reach the hoped-for heights, so the piece lacked an overall arc which would bring it back to end with the haunting sounds of the beginning.
The first half of the concert concluded with the festive "Easter" Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov. Like the preceding works, this colorful, even riotous piece lacked a sufficiently incisive, rhythmic quality. Despite its motoric character, there was even a tendency to meander.
This all changed in the second half, which was devoted to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Llewellyn led this familiar repertory piece as a work that is fresh and exciting. From the start of the first movement there were effective contrasts. Sforzandos were strong if occasionally a bit scratchy in the strings. The first theme practically glowed with a sprightly dance quality. The main rhythmic motive of the movement was sharp, and crescendos surged. In fact, the orchestra played noticeably louder here than at any point in the first half – where the ensemble was larger. Here was the power this listener had been waiting for.
In the second movement, Llewellyn effectively realized the allegretto tempo marked by Beethoven. A slower tempo grants the movement more weight, but as rendered here it had a strong flow and shape. There was beautiful pianissimo playing and the colors in the coda were almost a showcase of the orchestra itself.
The rollicking third movement, truly in the presto tempo marked by Beethoven, had strong high points and a fine soft passage which led to a big and effective crescendo.
The final movement captured the whirlwind rhythms of this embodiment of the dance. Its propulsive power carried from the driving opening through the buildup to the coda and a thrilling conclusion. A shouted bravo followed by enthusiastic applause greeted the end of this evergreen masterpiece, which showed conductor and orchestra at their full artistic power.
Performances of this program will be repeated at the Seabrook Auditorium at Fayetteville State University on February 26, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh at noon on February 27, the Dennis Wicker Civic Center in Sanford on March 1, and at Pembroke State University on March 21. For ticket information to any of these concerts click here.
*The Prince Igor Overture was set to paper by Glazunov.