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The Charlotte Symphony presented a Valentine's-themed concert at the Knight Theater on Feb. 14, offering a four-piece program featuring works by Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Delius, and Beethoven. Music director Christopher Warren-Green conducted this evening of lyricism and romance.
The program opened with Tchaikovsky's lush and tragic Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, the gorgeous and recognizable love theme from which now appears ubiquitously in movies and commercials. This soon transitioned into the main event of the evening: Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor featuring guest pianist Gabriela Martinez.
Martinez, Venezuelan-born and now Houston-based, made her orchestral debut at the age of seven. She holds two degrees from The Juilliard School (a bachelor's and a master's), where she studied on full scholarship. She has performed with orchestras all over the United States and abroad under the direction of the likes of Gustavo Dudamel, James Gaffigan, and James Conlon, to name a few. Martinez played with precision, versatility, and joy. In effect, she danced as she played, and her facial expressions demonstrated a deep connection with her music. She is a truly excellent pianist.
Chopin's concerto is in three movements, beginning with an Allegro, following with a Romanze, and finishing with a Rondo. The music varies from dramatic flairs in the Allegro to a gentle lullaby in the Romanze and playful, laughter-like phrases in the Rondo. Martinez was light and delicate at times, such as in her entrance in the Romanze where notes cascad up and down like a stream over pebbles, and playful and sassy elsewhere, such as in staccato trills of the Rondo. Her use of rubato was deeply expressive without ever being exaggerated, and the orchestra, led by Maestro Warren-Green, moved seamlessly along with her. Her technique was flawless – she never missed a note – and her dynamics and articulations ranged from delicate to powerful.
Second only to Martinez's performance was the final piece of the concert, Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, in F. This symphony is often referred to as Beethoven's "good humored" and "light" symphony. (He, himself, referred to is as "my little Symphony in F," distinguishing it from the Seventh, which is also in F.) Made up of four movements (none of which are slow), the work is cheerful and playful, which is ironic, considering the fact that upon its composition in 1812, Beethoven was in poor health and, supposedly, heartbroken: The summer that the Eighth was composed was the same one in which Beethoven wrote his famous letter to his "Immortal Beloved," a letter to an anonymous lover who remains a mystery to this day.
The Charlotte Symphony played at its best in this final piece, whereas in the earlier pieces – particularly the Tchaikovsky and Delius' "The Walk to the Paradise Garden," from his 1901 A Village Romeo and Juliet – there had been moments of inconsistency in timing, ensemble, and intonation. Here, in the Beethoven, the performance was clear and concise. For whatever reason, the orchestra appeared much more comfortable with this final piece and was able to portray its spirit and jovial nature with strength and accuracy. The ensemble will surely be even stronger at the subsequent performances.
I look forward to hearing more of the orchestra's interpretations of Beethoven as we celebrate the composer's 250th anniversary. The CSO will next continue this anniversary recognition with the Missa Solemnis on March 6-7; other concerts of Beethoven will follow.
This Valentine's concert will continue through a matinee on Sunday, February 16. Please see the sidebar for more details.