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The North Carolina Symphony continued its season at Wilmington's superb Wilson Center. The program was unusual in that a concerto was the first and only piece before the intermission, and the second half was the longer one.
Ingrid Fliter was the soloist in Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor. Fliter has performed with many orchestras in the United States and abroad and in 2006 received the Gilmore Artist Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the music world.
Led by guest conductor Pablo Rus Broseta, the orchestra's extended exposition opened the Chopin with a relatively light sound, with the tone weighted toward the upper range. Fliter's treatment of the solo part emphasized the lyrical. Everything was beautifully phrased, each moment was given expression, and no note, no phrase, felt purely in the service of brilliance. The result was a performance of beauty and soul; virtuosity and the powerful tone typically characteristic of a large-scale concerto were secondary. At times the pace was almost leisurely; one might have wished for more momentum and sheer passionate strength. But the listener fairly basked in the expressiveness of this magnificent music.
The orchestra opened the second movement lovingly, with wonderful phrasing and tone in the winds. The piano entrance was achingly beautiful and perfectly underlined by the strings. When the piano repeated the theme, the filigree so characteristic of Chopin was gorgeous. The passionate middle section, so much like operatic recitative, had, like the first movement, less pathos than lyricism. One might have wished for more drama. The quiet, high-range transition back to the first theme was magical.
The third movement began gently in the piano. One savored the fine orchestral transition to the mazurka. In the mazurka section itself, Fliter brought out the vigorous folk character and accents of the dance. The clarinets led beautifully to delicate piano filigree and the return of the theme. The brilliant coda glittered, with a light transparent piano tone.
This piece too easily becomes a vehicle for virtuosic show, but Fliter suffused the concerto with lyricism and expression. Even as drama and power were perhaps underplayed, the listener savored beauties throughout in this communication of sheer music making.
The Symphony in Three Movements by Igor Stravinsky, which followed intermission, gave the listener the opportunity to experience the guest conductor on his own. The piece has a great deal of highly rhythmic music, and Rus Broseta led with precise cues. The orchestra was crisp and tight throughout, no mean accomplishment in this piece. Nonetheless, one noticed that the size and character of his beat remained similar in spite of the large variety of material and dynamics. His gestures did not show phrase shapes or much leading to peaks. The result was that the intensity, even harshness of the first movement were rather mild.
The lyrical second movement had good sound but was rather lacking in direction and color, despite the varied writing for the orchestra. Beat similarity continued in the third movement so that it became as much neutral as dynamic or intense.
The final work was one of the masterworks of the repertory, Mozart's Symphony No. 35, famous as the "Haffner," known as such for the dignitary who commissioned the piece. In this great standard work, and without the difficult rhythmic demands of the Stravinsky, one looked forward to the conductor opening up in expression. But here too, Rus Broseta maintained a beat similar in size and type for a good part of things, despite the strong contrasts this music thrives on.
In the second movement, the interpretation went more towards the character of a light dance; one would have wished for more expressive weight. In the third movement, again more contrast in the main idea would have been desirable. One also wondered if the lyrical material could have been softer, especially in the trio; the orchestra's first-rate wind section is capable of whispering tone.
The start of the last movement brought the soft sound one had missed earlier. But the beat character remained relatively unchanged and the movement didn't have the bubbly propulsion one would wish for. There was a nice touch in the strong timpani strokes, which contributed greater intensity. But overall, the dynamism and expressive strength of this enduring masterwork were less than fully brought forth.
Note: This was the third of three performances of this program.