This concert of the Charlotte Symphony in the Belk Theater of Blumenthal Center was sensational – the orchestra was in top shape, the soloist excellent, and guest conductor Andrew Grams may (and should, in the opinion of this reviewer) become the next Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony!
Hardly giving the audience time to settle back after the opening applause, Maestro Grams launched into the exuberant attack of Berlioz’s "Roman Carnival" Overture, Op. 9. Following the long and famous English horn solo, expressively played by Terry Maskin, the viola section repeated the theme in one of the warmest and sweetest-toned passages imaginable. And then we were "off to the races" – or perhaps to the carnival – led by the young conductor who infused the performance with high energy. Occasionally he used his full left arm in a large sweep to emphasize a strong accent, a gesture reminiscent of the late Rumanian maestro, Sergiù Celibidache.
The energetic and bombastic Berlioz overture overshadowed the opening of Schumann’s romantic masterpiece, the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, which, after the brief opening chord and cadenza, settled into a subdued exposition. But conductor Grams established the exact setting for Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter, who played the very difficult first movement in a tender and moving manner. Bravo to the principal clarinet, Eugene Kavadlo, for his sensitive playing of the themes which maintain a constant dialogue with the piano solo. In the second movement, Intermezzo, the strings matched perfectly the piano’s opening four-note theme and continued to pass the theme back and forth in delightful fashion. Fliter was delicate and poetic in the romantic interchange with the cello section and witty in the return of the four-note theme. Maestro Grams led the movement to an exquisitely hushed close in preparation for the fanfare which signals the Finale, which was played with a power and vigor that Fliter had held in check in the previous movements – all successfully negotiated the tricky hemiola (cross rhythm) sections that characterize this movement. Except for a late and missed entrance by the horn section, the last movement successfully brought the first half of the concert to an enthusiastic climax.
Rarely does one have the occasion to sing the praises of the lower brass, but the trombone section was glorious as it complimented the cellos at the mysterious start of the Dvorák Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88. They set the stage for the solo flute to burst into the bird-like theme which figures so prominently in the first and last movements of this symphony. The second movement, with its often-tedious thematic material, was a showcase of elegant orchestral precision. The waltz-like Scherzo with rippling woodwinds and cross rhythms in the trio recalled the last movement of the Schumann and ended in a boisterous two-step.
The fourth movement is essentially a theme and variations, not unlike Beethoven’s Finale to the "Eroica," which also presents a fast theme in many guises, including slow and solemn versions. Notable to this Dvorák set of variations is a droll march with dissonant grace notes and raucous descending modulations.
Maestro Grams was a complete conductor in the Dvorák symphony; he paid careful attention to details but took an architectural approach, relating surfaces to surfaces in complementary or contrasting fashion, as the structure of the work required. He conducted both orchestral works by memory, occasionally absent-mindedly turning a dozen pages in the score which, in the manner of Seiji Ozawa, sat unused on the lectrum in front of him. His gestures were elegant – sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle, but never done for show. Grams enabled the softest pianissimos (in the middle of the recapitulation of the first movement, and again in the second movement) I have heard from the Charlotte Symphony. He shaped phrases exquisitely, took time, avoided rushing into passages, and generally showed a musical sophistication and maturity rare for a young conductor. I predict a long and rich career for this born poet.
Charlotte Symphony – Don’t Miss This Concert!
October 4, 2008, Charlotte, NC: This concert was sensational – the orchestra was in top shape, the soloist excellent, and the conductor [Andrew Grams*] may (and should!) become the next Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony! Further commentary and a detailed review will be posted tomorrow.
This concert will be repeated tonight — Saturday, October 4 — at 8:00 PM. The program includes Berlioz’s "Roman Carnival" Overture, the Schumann Piano Concerto with soloist Ingrid Fliter, and Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony, all in the Blumenthal Center. For details, [see our calendar].