The North Carolina Symphony, under the baton of guest conductor James Feddeck, regaled a Meymandi Concert Hall crowd with two works by Russian composers of the late Romantic Era, both tuneful, invigorating, and a pleasure to hear.
The first half of the concert was given over to the Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82, by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936). It is cast in two two-section swaths, each separated by stunning double-stop-infused cadenzas. The first part is developed around two themes, both romantic in character; the second, especially lyrical, stands in for the traditional slow middle movement of a concerto. The finale ends with a jaunty dance-like affair that sounds a bit like a Scottish gig. It was pure joy.
North Carolina Symphony concertmaster Brian Reagin was the featured soloist. In his 28 years with the orchestra, he has appeared as soloist over 100 times. His masterful technique and warmth of interpretation made Glazunov's music sing and dance. Feddeck's leadership provided elastic accompaniment, attentive to the soloist.
Feddeck is recognized as an appealing conductor on a fast track to international recognition. He has conducted several significant musical ensembles. His appearance on the podium is commanding. He uses all the space provided to him, often reinforcing long sweeping melodies with arms outstretched and swinging across from one side of the podium to the other. I may be wrong but it seems to me that some of his gestures reflect the influence of the Austrian master Carlos Kleiber. At any rate, he was with the orchestra all the way, never missing a swell or sweep of the music.
It has always seemed to me that Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony represents the pinnacle of romantic classical music. Resplendent with long flowing melodies, lush orchestration and emotional extremities, it is hard to imagine another symphony that can top it in the elements that are typical of the Romantic Era.
The first movement, full of lavish lyricism, illustrates Rachmaninoff's gift for long expansive melodies. The second movement seems like a march that doesn't take itself too seriously and therefore does not mind its frequent pastoral interruptions. The third movement is, well, like the young people might say, "awesome." A melody of indescribable beauty rolls out and builds to an almost unbearable climax, then fades back to develop some more. It re-enters and builds again to another blinding climax before floating down on the wings of a flute and solo violin, finally ending in a whisper that disappears to nothing. The concert hall's audience was absolutely silent: not a cough, not a dropped program, not even a wiggle – nothing but pure silence and stillness.
The raucous beginning of the fourth movement broke the mood. Life goes on. After revisiting the first three movements, the symphony builds its way step by step to a blazing triumphant conclusion. It was a concert that gave supreme pleasure.
Leaving the hall, I heard four different satisfied concert-goers whistling or humming that sweeping melody from the third movement of the Rachmaninoff. "It just doesn't stop, does it?" I commented to one man. He replied, "I could listen to that all night. You could bathe in such music." Indeed!
This program will be repeated Saturday, November 21, at 8:00 p.m., in Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, and Sunday, November 22, at 7:30 p.m., in Memorial Hall on the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. See the sidebar for details.