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Music director Christof Perick chose one work, Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, "Choral," to open the 75th Anniversary Season of the Charlotte Symphony. Its theme of mankind's brotherhood is appropriate for an ever-troubled world and it is an apt celebration of a valued cultural institution's survival of ups and downs since its founding during the depression. The large audience in Belk Theater was treated to a disciplined and passionate performance. The four vocal soloists made a good matched ensemble and both the orchestra and the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte performed with intense concentration.
CVNC reviews have chronicled Perick's mastery of German Classical and Romantic repertory. This was everywhere evident from the compelling rhythm of the opening notes through the blazing finale. Each string section played as one with crisp clear articulation and precise attacks. Pairings, such as the combination of cellos and double-basses or violas were just as unified. Woodwinds, especially bassoon and oboe, had outstanding extensive solos. Horns were glorious throughout regardless of the dynamic. Other brass blended with them sensitively. Perick chose sensible tempos coupled with a steadfast forward momentum and was ever alert to subtle and expressive changes in dynamics.
The four vocal soloists came out quietly after the swift-passed second movement. Most unusual was Perick's seating them left between the back of the violin sections and the large choir seated on risers across the back stage. The glowing slow movement was splendidly phrased and made a strong contrast to the rousing finale. It balanced deep rumination with an underlying thrust. Both choir and soloists sang with outstanding diction, clear enough for a language student's recitation test. Bass-baritone Richard Bernstein's opening recitative was robust and ringing and his lower range encompassed the low notes needed later. Bassoons and percussion were delightfully pungent in the "Turkish music" leading up to the tenor solo, vibrantly delivered by Stanford Olsen. His timbre was particularly pleasing. A minor quibble; mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash's timbre provided less contrast to the soprano's than usual but was otherwise fine. Soprano Twyla Robinson's voice was firm and even across its range and was strongly projected, easily cutting through the orchestra. All four blended beautifully in the ensembles.
Too much praise could not be given the chorus as they matched every change in dynamic or speed. During the last quarter of the finale, the purity of a long sustained high note by the soprano section was breathtaking. Few choirs can boost so even a balance of men and women.
This performance fulfilled every criterion for such a special gala occasion. What a joy to hear a choir take the words from Shiller's text, "Freude... feuertrunken" (Joy... drunk with fire), to heart!