A near-capacity audience filled renovated Memorial Hall on the University of North Carolina campus for a North Carolina Symphony Classical Series concert that featured the orchestra’s in-house talent both on the podium and as featured soloist. This was the auspicious series debut for new Assistant Conductor Joan Landry. Associate Concertmaster Dovid Friedlander, now in his second year, was impressive in a rare Romantic concerto showpiece.
From the opening bars of Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz, it was clear that Landry had thoroughly mastered her scores. The Overture portrays the shifting moods of the forest. The slow opening, with inter-weavings of strings and wonderful rustic horns, was especially well paced. Associate Principal Horn Kimberly Van Pelt led her four colleagues in some golden tones. Principal Clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore’s solo was evocative and beautifully phrased. While some of the middle portion of the piece may have been a little four square, the faster conclusion perfectly was judged.
The only disappointment of the evening was the replacement of the long scheduled gorgeous Violin Concerto of Samuel Barber with the more superficial Violin Concert No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22, by Henryk Wieniawski (1835-80). When the orchestra showcases its own members, unusual or rarely played concertos are often given an airing. The performers are never less than adequate though they sometimes are short of showmanship. Freidlander’s foray was considerably above that benchmark. He played without a score, his burnished tone was large, and easily filled the hall. His bowing and fingering were immaculate with precise intonation no matter how fast the passage. Landry kept the orchestra perfectly balanced, providing an accompaniment that fit like a glove. Each and every element of the orchestral score was given its due. Wieniawski’s orchestration is considerably more interesting than that of showpiece concertos by Liszt or Paganini. The important oboe solo was expressively played by Michael Schultz. The warm audience response recalled Freidlander to the stage for four bows.
The main course was Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, musical comfort food at the heart of the repertoire. Landry’s interpretation was dynamic and solidly mainstream. Tempos were fully convincing, neither dragging nor feeling rushed. Orchestral details were clear, and a broad range of instrumental color and dynamics was deployed. There was nothing episodic about her approach; she kept the symphony’s overall structure in constant focus. Landry’s right hand gave an exceptionally clear beat while her left hand was used constantly to refine dynamics and expressive details. All sections of the orchestra responded with superb playing and unanimity. The horns were glorious throughout as was vital anchoring by Principal Timpanist Jon Feddersen. Landry had Associate Principal Horn Van Pelt stand along with Concertmaster Brian Reagin and Principal Oboist Melanie Wilson for their strongly characterized playing in the second movement.