DON DELAUTER: Curry Brings Out the Best in Symphony
On Thursday, Feb. 8, Resident Conductor William Curry returned with the North Carolina Symphony to Lee Auditorium for the fourth concert of the season.
Returning also was Pianist Jon Kimura Parker, whose last engagement here was in January 2003.
North Carolina composer Paul Elwood gave the audience the first work on the program, another musical "Post Card" in the series commissioned by the orchestra to commemorate its 75th season.
The title, "Over Looking Glass Falls," implies a piece of program music telling a story about the falls. I could imagine the picture, but couldn't fit it into the music which was not engaging for me.
Jon Kimura Parker soloed in the ever-popular "Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor" by Tchaikovsky. This work readily demonstrates Tchaikovsky's gut-level emotional appeal, never more so than by the exciting playing of Parker, backed up by Curry and the NCS.
The big first movement started with an immediately recognizable and grandiose introduction whereby the soloist began his display of power at the keyboard.
There was a love affair between the piano and the orchestra with the music from each entwined with the other, and everything expertly and deftly directed by Curry.
The opening movement included a spectacular cadenza as Parker moved with nuance and sensitivity around the main themes. The movement seemed a complete work in itself as an ending crescendo sounded so much like a finale. The crowd sensed it too as they burst into applause, momentarily interrupting the performance.
A beautiful flute introduced the main theme of the andante. Soloist and orchestra alternated with colorful variations on the theme throughout the movement. Along the way we got a taste of Parker's spectacular virtuosity.
In the third movement (allegro), the soloist set a torrid pace with a new main theme and more virtuosic playing. Great power and beautiful sound from the keyboard were matched by full rich playing from the orchestra. I was briefly reminded of Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony.
This concerto had its 1875 premiere in Boston and was an immediate hit with that American audience. Thus began an American love affair with the work that was reflected time and again -- Horowitz and Toscanini in 1943, Van Cliburn after winning the Tchaikovsky competition in 1957.
With a sustained standing ovation, Moore County music lovers showed their love and appreciation for the work, the soloist and the orchestra.
Danish composer Carl Nielsen's name does not pop readily to my mind when I think about great composers. Curry fixed this problem -- at least in the short run -- by leading the NCS in a stirring performance of Nielsen's "Symphony No. 5." The presentation was made even better with a mini-lecture by Curry explaining key aspects of the composer and the music.
Curry noted that, unlike Nielsen's other symphonies, the No. 5 was not titled, but if it were, the name would be "Heroic." He showed why by leading the NCS in a powerful performance of "one of the 20th century's great symphonies."
The first movement in two parts alternated between serenity and martialism. It started with quiet beauty, mostly from strings. Soon the beauty was interrupted by harsh beats of the snare drum. The percussion star of most classical works is the tympani. Not here. The snare drummer had lots of fun as he intermittently tried to "take over" the orchestra.
Pizzicato from the cellos and basses and plaintive statements by the lead clarinet rounded out the tempo gusto section.
The adagio brought back the beauty with mellow strings and lyrical brass. The persistent snare drum reappeared, but again the soulful clarinet had the last word.
The second movement was fraught with tension as one section of the orchestra outdid the next in creating dissonance. I was glad for the tranquility of the andante.
Tension appeared yet again in the finale, but seemed to be released in the final few bars.
Hearing this exceptional work live was a rewarding experience. With Curry's tight control, precise communication with the orchestra, and deep emotional involvement in the music, he once again brought out the very best in this superb ensemble.
Popular guitarist Danny Infantino presented a well-attended pre-concert lecture.
Don Delauter is a retired USAF brigadier general and classical music enthusiast living in Whispering Pines.
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