By Roy C. Dicks: What’s the Score?
Raleigh – Sept. 24, 2010
There was great beauty, poetry and refinement in the North Carolina Symphony’s first Raleigh classical concert of the season Friday, September 24th. The orchestra had a gorgeous sheen, the soloists demonstrated confident artistry and the conductor offered intriguing insights. But a bit more verve and excitement would not have gone amiss.
The program was linked thematically by introspection, a major component of all three works. Grant Llewellyn took an elevating approach to Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished”), emphasizing the noble majesty of the first movement (subtly enhanced by wistful solos from new principal clarinetist, Andrew Lowy) and the delicate serenity of the second. He made clear contrasts of the dark clouds that pass through both movements but kept them at bay with glowing warmth throughout. Llewellyn took the quiet hush of the second movement at a daringly relaxed pace but convinced with its wafting lyricism.
The first movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, the most finished part of this uncompleted work, contains all the composer’s typical angst and melancholy, juxtaposed in violent contrasts of mood. The piece can be a gripping rollercoaster ride but Llewellyn chose to round off its edges, giving it similar treatment to the Schubert. The result provided some ethereal moments of mystery and yearning but it also allowed the tension and pulse to wither, the lengthy work falling into various bits and pieces rather than maintaining a single architecture.
Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto” has a certain pensive elegance. Cellist Zuill Bailey, violinist Giora Schmidt and pianist Navah Perlman, who frequently perform as a chamber music trio, brought that experience to their meditative, controlled playing, Llewellyn supplying polished, precise accompaniment. Bailey displayed expressive individuality, while Schmidt impressed with his easy virtuosity. Perlman downplayed any showiness with straightforward efficiency.
Despite the inherent character of the piece, the performance seemed too dainty and passionless, communicating little joy and vitality until the sprightly dance rhythms of the last movement forced everyone to let go a bit. Strangely, the soloists’ encore of a Mendelssohn trio movement had more heart and immediacy than what had gone before.
Music can evoke marvelous spirituality and grace, but without underlying energy, it can be uninvolving and even dull. Next time, more heart and less head, please.
[a version of this review appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer on Sept. 27, 2010]