The exceptional musical delights of the upper Rhine could hardly have been sweeter as Captain (conductor) Lorenzo Muti steered the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle through the land of castles, medieval towns and hills festooned with blossoming grape vines. Their concert entitled “A Journey Along the Rhine” and featuring music by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner provided abundant good cheer, awesome adventures, and warm memories.

The special guest for this concert taking place at the Carolina Theatre was Samuel Hasselhorn, a young German baritone who has been making a name for himself in recitals, oratorios and operas and has been winning competition prizes in Hannover, Stuttgart, London, Paris, and New York.

Hasselhorn opened the concert with the heart-rending “Evening Star Song” (“O du mein holder Abendstern”) from Wagner’s Tannhauser. Elizabeth has given up hope of Tannhauser’s return from Rome with the other pilgrims and has gone off to die that inexplicable opera death – I call it “death by opera.” Wolfram prays to the evening star to greet Elizabeth’s soul as it ascends to “Fields of light that know no morrow.” The overwhelming beauty of this aria (along with the powerful “Pilgrim’s Chorus”) has been the first step on the road to becoming a Wagnerite for many. Hasselhorn’s rendition conveyed all the mystical transcendence of Wagner’s genius. I know Horst would have swooned over this performance. (This was the Horst and Ruth Mary Meyer Memorial Concert.)

Very few if any composers could match the ability of Franz Schubert to paint dramatic musical pictures. His melodies, harmonies and imaginative accompaniments, when joined by the singer, make for an almost cinematic presentation. “An die Musik,” a hymn to the art of music, is one of the best-known songs by Schubert. It is held in high esteem and affection by both performing artists and music lovers alike. Its harmonic simplicity, sweeping melodic line, and strong supportive bass underpins the lovely vocal line. The performance in the orchestration by Max Reger was gorgeous and revealed Hasselhorn’s affinity for this art form.

Next, back to opera, with Count Almaviva’s aria of blustery revenge from Le Nozze di Figaro – “Vedro mentr’io sospiro.” Here baritone and orchestra were matched and balanced over the underlying charm of Mozart’s magical score.

Then came another Reger-orchestrated Schubert lied – perhaps the most celebrated of all: “Der Erlkönig.” Here the lied is not a vocal song with a piano accompaniment. It is an art form in which music composed for piano and voice is combined, integrated. Of course, in this concert it was orchestra and voice with Muti and Hasselhorn maintaining the intimacy and collaboration that makes the portrayal of a father’s terrifying ride in the night so vivid.

The applause was enthusiastic and sustained and was rewarded with an encore: a tour de force rendition of the famous “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Hasselhorn has a fine voice, not quite ripe yet in the lower register, but in the middle and upper range it is both warm and sparkling at the same time. Surely he is on the way.

Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat (Rhenish), Op.97 filled the second half of the concert. Schumann was inspired to write the symphony after a trip to the Rhineland with his wife Clara in 1850. It was a happy and peaceful trip, which felt to them as if they were on a pilgrimage. In the symphony, he incorporated elements of the journey and portrayed other experiences from his life in the music. It is framed in five movements, modeled after Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

The first movement marked “Lebhaft” (Lively) is heroic and grand in nature. The strong main theme is repeated and developed throughout the movement, passing through numerous key changes until it returns triumphantly to the opening key. The second movement is marked “Sehr massig” (Very calm) and is rustic in nature, partially based on a German folk dance. This movement is especially reminiscent of Beethoven’s Pastoral.

The third movement is marked “Nicht schnell” (Not fast) omits tympani and brass and provides a calm and peaceful repose in the middle of the symphony. The fourth movement, marked “Feierlich” (Solemnly) starts with strings, but immediately moves into a gorgeous chorale played by horns and trombones. It is developed in a variety of ways and the trombones are never far away, providing rich and warm foundation throughout the movement.

The fifth movement returns us to the key of E-flat and after recalling some joyful tunes from earlier in the symphony ends confidently and triumphantly.

The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle gave a sweeping and balanced performance. Maestro Muti’s strong and personable leadership of the orchestra and generous relationship to the supportive audience have made for outstanding musical experiences for approaching thirty years now, and we trust it will continue for many more.