Stefan Sanderling (still young at 45 if one judges by usual conductorly longevity) led an interesting and diverse program of Russian masterworks with the North Carolina Symphony at Meymandi Concert Hall. The evening began with “Kikimora,” Op. 63, a “Legend for Orchestra” by Anatol Liadov (1855-1914), one of the many figures of the late Russian romantic era who are known, if at all, by their music for piano (indeed, as a pianist, he published 43 collections of works, as opposed to 11 for orchestra). His talent was praised by Mussorgsky, and the miniature tone-poem “Kikimora,” a fragment from a never-completed opera, resembles one of the movements from Mussorgky’s Pictures (at an Exhibition). Its delightful enticements were over in five minutes or so.

The next work brought me my first opportunity to hear the much-lauded Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin in concert, and Hamelin lived up to his press, and more. His vehicle was the first piano concerto by Shostakovich, written in 1933, and with an anarchic energy reflecting the artistic energy of the Twenties, with its NEP-men (small businessmen who prospered in the spaces left by the New Economic Policy). The prominent solo trumpet part was played by the NCS’ Paul Randall. Hamelin displayed an almost superhuman accuracy and steely strength of touch absolutely appropriate for this music, and Sanderling led a performance remarkable for ensemble precision with the soloist at tempos that took the breath away, particularly in the close of the final movement, a manic gallop. It was simply brilliant, searing. Don’t miss your next opportunity to hear Hamelin. It is imperative that the NC Symphony bring him back soonest. (I must note, however, that the response of an audience seemingly baffled by Shostakovich’s idiom was far below what Hamelin merited).

After intermission, Sanderling offered one of the warhorses of the Romantic era, the Tchaikovsky Fourth, Op. 36, with its famous opening for brass, “Fate battering down human aspirations and hopes.” The NC brass were fully up to the task, with a huge sound under the balcony where I was sitting, and Sanderling led a fully-engaged, vital performance of the symphony, electric, compelling, one that brought bravos and a standing ovation from the throng.

A memorable evening of music at the highest level. Bravo!