The North Carolina Symphony‘s latest offering in this winter season is a program full of lush romanticism and melodrama. Brahms’ satisfying Symphony No. 2 headlined the concert, but a big proponent of the intrigue was Jinjoo Cho‘s passionate performance of Korngold’s film score tapestry, his Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35.* Holding everything together with the most articulate conducting was Clemens Schuldt, whose United States debut is this program with the NC Symphony. Schuldt hails from Germany but is quickly making a name for himself beyond; he boasts an equal balance between symphonic and opera credits. A violinist himself, it was wonderful to see his debut feature a concerto for the instrument.

The concert opened with György Ligeti’s unique yet traditional Romanian Concerto, an exploration of textures and tuning both within and among the sections of the orchestra. Solo moments in the sun from the principal cello, clarinets, and first violin were highlights of the NCS’s performance. Eerie, Medieval-sounding open intervals give way to bombastic fiddling by the time the fourth movement begins; at the end, Concertmaster Brian Reagin‘s solo of impossibly high notes (almost like birds chirping) was punctuated by the horns, creating a remarkable texture.

Perhaps the best way to describe this Korngold Violin Concerto (and Jinjoo Cho’s performance of it) is multifaceted. When Korngold began composing for Hollywood films in the 1930s, he had fully settled into his style of late Romanticism and was able to appeal to the desire for film scores that propelled opera-like drama forward. Although this concerto does rework some of his most popular film themes, it is much more nuanced than simply that, taking on the form of a true Romantic-era concerto. However, it is slightly more free in texture and musical direction, resulting in moments where Cho and the orchestra switched from lyrical vibrato to capricious, accented patterns in seconds. Cho’s performance of the first movement, Moderato nobile, was so fabulous that it evoked a few inadvertent claps at its ending; the dream-like expression introduced in the first movement that she perpetuated throughout the concerto was really wonderful. Truly, the second movement is something of a reverie, perhaps broken only by Cho’s final cadenza. The intricate Finale is filled with direct exchange between soloist and orchestra, all connected with Schuldt’s precise gestures. Cho’s intensely emotional performance made even the most intricate cadenzas look effortless and even fun for the thrilling conclusion.

The unspoken hero of the NCS playing Brahms’s beloved second symphony was the cello section. Throughout the work, the cello section is often used as an impetus for change, such as pushing the melodic development forward in the Adagio. To the orchestra’s credit, unison moments in the cello section truly sounded like one player. This work, in D Major, just like the concerto before it, has a largely sunny and warm disposition (ironically appropriate given the weather lately), with only a few moments of darkness or yearning drama. The exploding fourth movement brought out unbridled brass, ending the drama-filled concert optimistically.

This program will be repeated on March 2 in the same venue. See the sidebar for details.

*An admirable discussion of the concerto’s film origins is here.