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Symphony's Perick begins his farewell

03.07.10
Shai Wosner
Charlotte Observer

By Steven Brown

The days dwindle down on Christof Perick's time in Charlotte. This weekend, he's leading the first of his last three concert programs as the Charlotte Symphony's music director.

So Friday began the summing-up. Perick and the orchestra devoted the night to what they've spent many on since he took over in 2001: the music of his native Germany and kindred-spirit Austria. The orchestra handled it with a flair and assurance that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago.

Where was that on display? In Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn" - cozy, colorful music that proves Brahms wasn't as somber as some people claim - you could hear it in the lyrical variations' lilt and the speedy ones' breeziness and precision.

Occasionally, a fuller string sound would've helped Brahms glow. That was an issue of the number of players and the cost of adding more - a challenge that will continue past Perick's time. The lighter tone at least lent a clarity that enabled neatly turned details to shine through.

Perick and his successor, Christopher Warren-Green, both say that Mozart's music is prime material for cultivating orchestras. Perick has conducted a lot of it here, and that paid off throughout Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 - one of the grandest of Mozart's concertos.

In the first movement's big piano solo - meant by Mozart to be improvised by the pianist - guest soloist Shai Wosner slipped in a bit of Mozart's opera "The Marriage of Figaro." Maybe there was some power of suggestion in that, because the whole performance had a tinge of the theater's liveliness.

It came through in the first movement's ring and vitality, the second movement's brooding lyricism and the finale's dash. Wosner filled the piano part with light and shade that made everything vivid. The orchestra added sparkle and, in the slow movement, a mellowness and soul that belied the string section's compactness.

As he occasionally has, Perick threw into the mix a work that doesn't show up nearly as much in the United States as in Europe. That was the "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" by Boris Blacher, a composer whose heyday was in the mid-1900s. The variations are based on the same dynamic violin piece as Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody.

Blacher uses no piano, but also like Rachmaninoff, he sets loose a kaleidoscope of orchestral color and texture. It's bold, quirky, dynamic music, and the orchestra relished everything from a quiet bit for slithering clarinets to a swaggering section for brasses to a climactic whirlwind for the fiddles.

The finale was a set of waltzes from "Der Rosenkavalier" by another Perick standby, Richard Strauss. Here again, Perick and the orchestra conjured up the aura of the theater in the waltzes' lilt, swing and gusto.