The Charlotte Symphony introduced the second of its four candidates for the position of Music Director, which Christof Perick is leaving in 2009, after eight seasons at the helm. William Eddins both soloed in Mozart’s 25th Piano Concerto in C major and led the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in the Belk Theater of Charlotte’s impressive Blumenthal Center before a large but, surprisingly, not sold-out audience. The concert will be repeated on Saturday at 8:00 p.m..

The most impressive playing of the evening came at the beginning of the concert, in the infrequently-heard “White Peacock” by American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920). This seven-minute work, originally written for piano, is subdued and subtle, opening with muted strings, oboes, flutes, and harp. Despite the frequent use of mixed meters, much in the work calls to mind Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” Indeed, there is much in “White Peacock” to remind one of Debussy or even Roussel – the lush yet understated orchestration, unresolved harmonies, and impressionistic colors. The piece was exquisitely played, ending on a mysterious chord supporting what must be the softest low “E” an oboist has ever played! Kudos to oboist Hollis Ulaky!

Maestro Eddins introduced the Mozart Piano Concerto, K.503, from the stage while seated on the piano bench. He presented an amusing description of “the formula that Mozart used in all piano concertos: scales, arpeggios and Alberti bass!” Whereupon he turned his back to the audience and both conducted the orchestra and played the solo part. He is an excellent pianist, but the acoustics of the hall were not conducive to a well-balanced and subtle performance. The coverless piano, pushed upstage into the midst of the reduced string section, seemed to disperse high over the stage in all but the solo portions of the concerto.

The Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky brought out both the best and the worst of the excellent orchestra that is the Charlotte Symphony. Whereas some orchestras in North Carolina are at their best when playing loud passages, the Charlotte Symphony musicians sound best in the softer moments. They are subtle, filled with warmth and depth, especially in the string section. The loudest passages were less balanced, dominated (at least from the second balcony) by the brass and tympani. Intonation also became a problem for the lower winds and horns, getting sharper as the concert progressed.

Maestro Eddins conducted the Tchaikovsky from memory, legs outstretched, arms appearing from the loose-fitting tailcoat, and shaven head bobbing. From the subdued opening with its low and melancholy clarinet to the rich and brilliant coda where the same melody appears victorious and affirmative in a major key, Eddins was clearly in charge, although some of the foot stomping and ballistic gesticulations in the louder passages seemed more about Eddins than about Tchaikovsky! Fortissimo followed fortissimo, seemingly without reference to form or to structure, just to decibel. The performance nonetheless evoked a standing ovation and shouts of “bravo!”

A word about the very enthusiastic audience in the Belk Theater – it was a remarkably casual audience, with few neckties and even fewer suits! The audience comprised all ages, from teens to silver-haired patrons, but was uniformly white, perhaps reflecting the appearance on stage – only two of the 75 orchestra musicians, plus the visiting conductor, were African-American – perhaps a long-range goal to address!

Note: For information about the 1/12 repeat of this program, click here.