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Ovations for Charlotte Symphony, Tchaikovsky

Joshua Roman
Charlotte Observer

By Steven Brown

As Friday’s Charlotte Symphony concert unfolded, I thought it would turn out to be the orchestra’s first night with three standing ovations. I was wrong. There turned out to be four – and a fraction more, if you figure in the part of the audience that was on its feet after the encore at the end.

The orchestra played with energy and subtlety most all the way. But at least as much credit must go to Tchaikovsky, whose music made up the whole concert except for the cello soloist’s encore. There’s nothing like Tchaikovsky’s fire and poetry to rev up an audience.

The orchestra delivered two doses of full-throttle Tchaikovsky: “Swan Lake” excerpts and the Symphony No. 4. Between, as a break from the theatrics, came his “Rococo Variations” for cello and orchestra, an homage to 18th-century elegance.

Actually, what made all of it so telling was that conductor Christopher Warren-Green and the orchestra didn’t necessarily treat the two sides as if they were poles apart.

Yes, the orchestra and cellist Joshua Roman made a lot of the “Rococo Variations” as buoyant and airy as an 18th-century dance. Roman, with his nimbleness and gleaming tone, savored that side of things.

But now and then, he and the orchestra let the music well up big-heartedly. There was nothing as thunderous as in the symphony, but deep feelings peeked through nevertheless.

“Swan Lake” and the Fourth Symphony were the other way around. Warren-Green and the players let fly thunderously at times, and the orchestra charged through the flourishes that open the symphony’s finale. The “Neapolitan Dance” from “Swan Lake” put the spotlight on Brian Winegardner, the orchestra’s new principal trumpeter – actually playing a cornet here – who tossed it off with warmth and finesse.

That was just one spot among many where the orchestra was as graceful as in the “Rococo Variations.” When Warren-Green brought out lyricism or introspection, the orchestra played with a delicacy and poise that it hasn’t always had.

There was something else aimed at drawing the audience in: Video cameras focused on the orchestra, beaming close-ups onto a big screen above the players. There was a split-second time lag that bothered concertgoer Troy Simihaian of Charlotte. But Tony Lopez, who has attended Charlotte Symphony concerts since 1964, said he loved the addition. When players get the extra exposure, “they perform better,” Lopez said. Maybe he was onto something.