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Although the featured composers were Mendelssohn and Bruch, incoming Charlotte Symphony musical director Christopher Warren-Green managed to keep the emphasis of his first season firmly on his native British Isles. Guest soloist Caroline Goulding bypassed Bruch's three violin concertos in favor of his Scottish Fantasy, performed for only the second time in Charlotte Symphony's history, and of course the Mendelssohn symphony had to be the A minor No. 3, the "Scottish." Even the Mendelssohn appetizer, "The Hebrides" Overture, was inspired by the Scottish coast at Fingal's Cave.
Before that, Warren-Green offered up an exquisitely heartwarming bonbon as 18 students from Winterfield Elementary School (grades two through five) joined members of the Symphony's Junior Youth Orchestra – and a discreetly pruned representation of the Symphony string choir in "Farewell to Stromness" by Peter Maxwell Davies. Originally written for piano, the orchestrated version was arranged by Warren-Green's wife, violinist Rosemary Furniss, and premiered in 2005 at the celebration of Prince Charles's wedding to the Duchess Camilla, with Warren-Green conducting. The Symphony, of course, did the heavy lifting where the score requires it, allowing the 23 fledgling violinists to appear mostly nearer to the audience than the maestro, without the encumbrance of music stands. The figure they played will no doubt serve them well if they should ever move on to Pachelbel's Canon, while the occasion served to extol the cultural and academic benefits of the Winterfield project, its kinship with the famed El Sistema of Venezuela, and the Symphony's plans to be more active in such programs all around Charlotte.
As the wind section sprung to life for "Fingal's Cave," the music became markedly more lively and picturesque. Windswept effects were every bit as compelling as the quiescent episodes, which have become the Symphony's prime strength so far under Warren-Green, and the turbulent passages were pleasingly raucous without losing their water-drop clarity. The twin clarinets, Eugene Kavadlo and Dru DeVan*, beautifully calmed things down between the galloping interval and the final storm.
Still a teenager, Caroline Goulding brought tremendous virtuosity and expressivity to the Scottish Fantasy, instantly apparent in the Grave introduction, studded with double-stops, preceding the lovely Andante Cantabile. The orchestra was more prominent in the ensuing Allegro-Adagio, simulating the drone of Highland bagpipes behind Goulding's dancing rendition of "The Dusty Miller," where the fast-paced double-stopping is even more impressive. The orchestra held firm in the grandly militant Finale, but there were scrappy moments from Goulding during the most intense virtuoso volleys in the "Scots Wha Hae" variations. Never timid in her attack, Goulding's tone has the pure, piercing quality I associate with David Oistrakh, though I believe the concert recording I have of his Bruch takes the opening movement at a slower pace.
Mendelssohn's Scottish proved to be more cohesive and gripping. First violins were sweet and precise in the opening Andante, and the recurring reel had just the right touch of morose nostalgia. The winds were impressive in the ensuing Vivace, where another reel was more vigorously sprung, with principal clarinetist Kavadlo leading us beguilingly into the revels. Once again, the violins set the regretful mood at the start of the Adagio, but the French horns announced the dominant second theme, which built to a majestic funeral cortege, flecked with horror and sublimity. Every transition throughout this kaleidoscopic symphony bore the stamp of inevitability, never more so than in the concluding Allegro as the brass and horns held firm, the winds basked briefly in sunlight, and the strings sang with vibrant spirit. Once again, the French horns announced the triumphal last melody with all the assurance of a compelling summation argument. Played as an encore, Mendelssohn's famed "Wedding March" seemed like an extension of this effervescent jollity.