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As Grant Llewellyn, Music Director of the North Carolina Symphony, said from the podium, this evening’s concert was to be a mixture of great sadness and great classical music. The sadness was the passing of Maxine McMahon Swalin who, with her husband Ben, gave much of her life to the support of musical efforts in our state, most especially with and for the North Carolina Symphony. Specifically, she was known as the great lady who with her husband resurrected the orchestra during those dark Depression years and set it on its course to eventual greatness. In tribute to her, Llewellyn opened the concert by conducting the orchestra in the well-known, majestic "Nimrod," from the Enigma Variations
of Edward Elgar, the grandeur of which seemed a very appropriate reflection of the great gifts and efforts of this woman who gave so much of her life to music.
The remainder of the concert, focused on works of Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, clearly echoed the magnitude of the Swalins’ accomplishments in those dark years and inspired renewed feelings of gratitude among many of those who were present in the hall.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 19 in D typifies the three-part form which frequently appeared during the composer’s early years. The sparkling Allegro molto and Presto, with their brilliantly constructed sonata forms, triadic phrasing, and virtuosic figurations, provided exciting music that is, in its purity and apparent simplicity, always challenging for musicians. The Andante, with its simple two-part structure and delicate melodic lines, offered a pleasing contrast to the driving motion and rapidly-moving string figurations in the outer movements.
One of the most beautiful performances of the evening was Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante in E-flat, K.364 (K.320d), for violin, viola, and orchestra, which bespeaks the greatness of Mozart the melodist and harmonist and makes clear his great skills for challenging solo string writing. Concertmaster Brian Reagin — a violinist with many years’ experience under the direction of André Previn, then-conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and Lorin Maazel, the masterful former conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra — and Principal Violist Anton Jivaev, a superb Russian-trained player, brought Mozart’s exquisitely beautiful violin and viola solos to brilliant life in the composer’s seemingly unending melodies. This work, like others of its genre, is also appealing because of its similarity to the double-concerto form as well as to the symphony. The virtuosity of both Reagin and Jivaev was stunning throughout the work, particularly in the richness of their florid string playing in the Allegro maestoso and the Presto. Especially in the Andante, with its unusual C minor tonality and its passionate melodic structures, Reagin and Jivaev established a happy teamwork which allowed them to compete amiably in their handling of Mozart’s great string phrases. Throughout the performance, the orchestra was most responsive to the composition of the master as well as to the detailed direction of their conductor, who was unrelenting in his exactitude.
The final work on this program, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92, was an emphatic statement of what the late Classical symphony was all about. As great composition and bravura performance from beginning to end, it also reveals completely the drive, the brilliance and the excitement of a work which does not always receive its due. From the slow, rather lengthy introduction through the increasingly rhythm-driven melodic and harmonic excitement of the four large movements, with their increasing appeal to the intently-listening audience, this great work was full of bravura playing in all sections of the orchestra. The powerful, joyful themes of the Allegretto, Presto, and the Allegro con brio, complemented by brilliant horn playing and crisp melodic enunciation in the strings, heralds a Beethoven whose Classicism he made entirely his own, and the orchestras that play it must recognize it. Certainly this orchestra did so, and the delighted audience members, who sprang to their feet with cheers and prolonged applause, knew that they had.
I have no doubt that the Swalins, whose decades of loving work enabled the North Carolina Symphony to live and grow despite the Great Depression and the war years, would have been pleased with this evening's performance and more than happy to point out to all of us the many great accomplishments of the orchestra. Let us replace the sadness we may feel at the recent loss of Maxine Swalin with our recognition of her and her husband's many accomplishments .
Note: This program will be repeated Saturday, October 10. See our calendar for details.