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For music lovers of the Romantic era, Friday night's program given by the North Carolina Symphony, as conducted by Grant Llewellyn, was a treat. Felix Mendelssohn's great E minor Violin Concerto and Beethoven's Sixth Symphony made for an evening of glittering passages and heightened expression.
At first glance, it seems odd to include a composition from a Modern-era Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar, before the Romantic greats. However, Kilar's "Orawa," which highlighted the strings, had a definite thematic connection to the Beethoven. The title "Orawa" hails back to the folk tradition of celebrating the end of harvest time with fiery music and dancing, similar to the hearty themes of the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The short work is almost mesmerizing in quality, with constant forward motion that is usually rippling on the tonic. This way, the lush, open harmonies remain grounded despite sudden changes in volume. Similar to a wild rustic dance (and Beethoven's version), "Orawa" grows intense and almost overwhelming in nature before the breathtaking close.
Violin soloist Benjamin Beilman, a lauded and internationally touring artist, wowed the audience with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. In short, his performance was incredibly moving. All one had to do while watching him play was to look at his face to feel and understand the emotions behind his interpretations of Mendelssohn's music. In this performance, Beilman had accomplished the perfect balance of accessing raw, true emotions, while making sure that every single note and articulation was perfectly calculated. The result was that every phrase seemed effortless.
In the stormy and noble first movement, the tone between Beilman and the symphony's strings was perfectly matched. A singular bassoon note connected to the middle movement. The Andante movement's themes contained undertones of sorrow, resulting in heart-wrenching expression from Beilman. This had dissipated by the beginning of the third movement, which in contrast, is filled with flowering, delicate passages that bubble along like a precisely-articulated brook (also foreshadowing for Beethoven's second movement). After the concerto, Beilman treated the audience to an encore of Bach's Partita No.3 for violin – the much-loved Gavotte en rondeau movement.
Of course, the NC Symphony's performance of Beethoven’s delightful Pastoral Symphony was flawless, and created the imagery woven into Beethoven's music with ease. Beethoven's themes here are not easily forgotten, and the musicians did justice to the melodies for both first-time listeners and lovers of this work.
The first movement depicts the arrival at a countryside in full bloom, and it is full of bursts of energy and a tripping melody. The woodwind turns were especially delightful here. The "Scene by the Brook" (Movement II) is quintessentially Romantic, with ripples in the low strings and moments of clear, unaccompanied birdsong from woodwinds. As mentioned before, the third movement is a rustic country dance, but soon hints of minor mode creep into the celebration – the storm begins to emerge, leading into the fourth movement. Chromatic rising and falling scales imitate the howling wind, and strings and percussion together provided the lightning strikes for a very convincing scene. However, the storm is short-lived. The birds slowly return, and with them the fifth movement, which brings to mind a sense of absolute contentment. When the sun shines through, the mood is transcendent and colorful, bringing the story full circle.
There are still two more opportunities to catch this program – Saturday 10/21 at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, and Monday 10/23 at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill. You won't want to miss it. See our sidebar for details.