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Maybe the reason many music critics tend to be disdainful of the Beethoven “Triple” concerto is that they never checked with the crowd at Meymandi Concert Hall on a Friday evening. There these critics would have been decidedly overruled. Helping to open the fall series in the Capital City was the composer’s formally named Concerto in C for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra, Op. 56. Music Director Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony teamed with a top-flight young trio: Pianist Navah Perlman (yes, the daughter of that Perlman), violinist Giora Schmidt, and cellist Zuill Bailey, all internationally acclaimed artists.
Doing much of the heavy lifting, the cellist started the Largo movement with a solo, leading into a veritable piano trio. Here the players’ alter ego as the Perlman-Schmidt-Bailey Trio was brought to bear. (That same entity was on excellent display in a gorgeous and surprising encore the three players just happened to have at the ready, the slow movement from Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 1 in D minor.) From their personal interactions, it was obvious that the soloists hugely enjoyed their hard work. Llewellyn and the orchestra certainly seemed up to, and comfortable with, the demands of the piece. It was a pleasure to see and hear the teamwork of Schmidt and Bailey. And if Navah Perlman found the piano lines “easy” (as some have asserted), then she joined company with some of her greatest predecessors in playing this concerto, the likes of Arrau, Richter, Serkin, and the Beaux Arts Trio’s Menahem Pressler.
Orchestra and director shone brightly in the other major work, the opening Symphony No. 8 in B minor (the “Unfinished”) of Schubert. The bass players should cherish this composer. What work has ever featured that section to a more prominent and tuneful advantage? So the piece, “unfinished” though it is, still might be ahead of anything he ever completed. It is difficult to imagine how many more variations Schubert could profitably have made on that famed “song of love” theme. The thorough program notes saw it as flowing with “rich sonorities and lovely melodies.” Lacking the customary finale, it ended not with a bang or a whimper, but a sigh.
The lesser-known work of the evening was the Adagio movement from another “unfinished” work, Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. Once the players launched into this large piece, its parentage was unmistakable, exhibiting as it did much of the character of that composer’s celebrated familiar output. The movement could be seen as a standalone tone poem. One attendee observed that it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Possibly so, but the hearer was still able to enjoy numerous attractions along the way.
As powerful prelude to the evening, the masterly Llewellyn led the orchestra and audience in an exuberant vocal and instrumental rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” thus setting up a spectrum of emotions, beginning with patriotic fervor and ending with the aforementioned peaceful encore. This program has built a fundamental foundation for the season. How could you improve on Beethoven, Schubert and Mahler to establish a sound point of departure? Many thanks to director, players and honored guests.