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At the season's opening concert on September 11, Music Director Christof Perick set the bar very high indeed for the rest of the Charlotte Symphony's concert season. The program played to the conductor's strengths in the Austro-German repertory, the classical period being represented by Mozart and the romantic era, by Bruckner.
Perick reduced the low strings of the orchestra for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595, while retaining a substantial number of violins. I had never heard soloist Emanuel Ax in better form. His seamless playing rivaled Murray Perahia's in that under his fingers it seemed impossible for the piano to be considered a percussion instrument. The notes were articulated with extraordinary clarity, and there was a wonderful chamber music-like give-and-take between Ax and the various woodwinds in numerous small duet episodes. Perick balanced his forces ideally, and it all dovetailed with precision and in ideal classical style. As an encore, Ax played one of Chopin's grande valses brillant.
The Belk Theater stage was well filled with extra strings for the monumental "Romantic" Symphony (No. 4, in E-flat; 1874, rev. 1878-80) by Anton Bruckner. Perick conducted this "cathedral in sound" entirely without a score. Above all else, Bruckner's symphonies are about architecture in sound. Great tapestries of sound are woven and contrasted with each other over the course of long movements. The four movements are separate entities, but overall the symphony forms a great arc. Perick never got bogged down in details, and there was no "grinding of gears" as he seamlessly illuminated the various components and fit everything into Bruckner's grand plan. He balanced the orchestra magnificently, so the strings could be heard at all times without being covered by the brilliant brasses. With outstanding solos by Principal Frank Portone, were splendid throughout, and the trombones, led by John Bartlett, played with remarkable subtlety. The last two movements had some fine passages featuring the sumptuous viola section, headed by Alice Merrill Kavadlo. Principal Alan Black and his sonorous cellos had many prominent parts throughout the symphony. The rock-solid and resonant pizzicatos of the double basses, under Ivan Zugelj, were memorable. Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu presided over the large violin sections, whose members played with such tight ensemble they sounded as one. Acting Principal Flute Amy Orsinger Whitehead brought just the right color and tone to several important solos.