Although the title of this program was “Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnole,” it began with a different work still genuinely French. La Péri is that “other” piece by Dukas, and just as engaging as the movie-famous Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Suitably continuing his 10th-anniversary season, Music Director Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony chose this lesser-known gem for the goodly turnout at Meymandi Concert Hall. If there were a sonic equivalent of “spectacular,” that word would serve to describe this exciting piece, such was the polished performance by Llewellyn and these accomplished players. A measure of glitter was indicated by the huge forces employed, even including two harps. The program notes fittingly pointed out the uncommon dynamic range and quality of the percussion, the cymbals and big drum “providing a whispering, distant, ominous thunder as background to the dance.”

The aforementioned grand Ravel composition and program namesake closed the evening {after an intervening period of resplendent pianism}. This famed four-movement Spanish Rhapsody can be adduced as evidence of Ravel’s genius in creating “Spanish” artistry. Given the composer’s origin in the Basque region, hard by Spain, perhaps there is little reason for surprise. The Malagueña and the Habañera folk dances provided the satisfying flavor. The ending, “Feria” (festival day), furnished a tempestuous contrast to the more peaceful opening Prelude. Each section in its own way exhibited Ravel’s perhaps unsurpassed mastery of orchestration and tonal color. Llewllyn rightly recognized the wind players’ contribution here.

In praise of pianist Constance Keene, Artur Rubinstein reported that he was “completely flabbergasted by the fantastic sweep, color, tone… and the incredible technique.” Might he have been similarly moved by the “million-volt stage presence” of the evening’s honored young guest, pianist Joyce Yang? Acclaimed as “the most gifted young pianist of her generation,” she was a Silver Medalist at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005. Note that she is now only twenty-six.

Rubinstein would likely have been pleased by how she leaned in to attack the challenging lines of Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. Here the piano serves not as a concerto instrument but also as a prominent member of the orchestra, requiring and receiving astonishing virtuosity. A fine example of general orchestral excellence occurred when the massed cellos chimed in for a charming duet with the piano.

This native of Seoul, Korea and Juilliard honors graduate came back after intermission for Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a work not often programmed but requiring the utmost from the soloist. (Some of her powerful fortissimos and glissandos were lost in the first movement, overpowered by the other players.) One writer has said that here “Falla has captured all the enchantment of Spain and the scent of its warm exotic nights.” Folk tunes and spirited dance rhythms permeate. One could scarcely have hoped for a superior interpretation of this towering work. This triumphant soloist and her orchestral colleagues deserve unconditional praise.

Llewellyn reminded the audience of the exceptional nature of this classical program, lacking as it did the standard “meat and potatoes” offerings from the likes of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. But the generous servings of choice finger sandwiches, yummy fromages, and crispy baguettes were sufficient to sate every gourmet and gourmand in Caroline du Nord.

For repeats of this program October 5 and October 6, see the sidebar.

Note: This exceptional soloist returns to the state for a chamber music performance with the Modigliani String Quartet in Asheville on November 15. For details, click here.  Edited 10/6 to correct error pointed out by reader. Thank you!