By Roy C. Dicks: What’s the Score?
Raleigh – Oct. 22, 2010
One N. C. Symphony programming concept this season is a series of four “Composer Portraits,” each devoted to a single composer. The first, heard Friday night, October 22, in Raleigh’s Meymandi Concert Hall, offered rare and alternative works by Tchaikovsky, played with considerable panache by the orchestra and insightful illumination from the soloist.
For perspective, the program began with the familiar “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy-Overture. Tchaikovsky’s first great success, the youthful 1869 work highlights the composer’s signature extremes of passion and drama. Conductor William Henry Curry emphasized dreaminess over raw emotion in the love-theme sections and built rousing climaxes in the family conflict passages.
Tchaikovsky’s 1876 “Variations on a Rococo Theme” was the closest he came to writing a cello concerto. The 20-minute, single-movement work was a nod to his reverence for Mozart, mimicking the Classical period’s formal elegance and emotional control. Tchaikovsky made it purposely un-showy, but the work was rearranged and “improved” by its original dedicatee to give the cello more prominence, that version becoming the one most often performed.
Here the orchestra’s principal cellist, Bonnie Thron, played Tchaikovsky’s original. She was appropriately restrained and refined within the context, yet colored each section with subtle melancholy or mirth accordingly. The piece uncompromisingly tests the instrument’s technical capabilities but Thron met the challenges with expert confidence. Curry supplied meticulous, buoyant support.
The rarity was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 7, a posthumous work constructed in 1957 by Russian composer Semyon Bogatyryov from material Tchaikovsky abandoned in 1892. The piece satisfies the urge for another Tchaikovsky symphony, most successfully in the lovely second movement and in the swirling third, less so in the outer movements’ bombast and awkward transitions. In its best moments, the piece recalls the mature genius of “The Nutcracker.”
Curry led a rhythmically precise, assuredly controlled reading, coaxing lush tone from the strings, burnished timbre from the woodwinds, and resounding weight from the brass, Brian Blanchard’s horn solos especially plangent. The engaging performance lacked only a certain abandonment, a giving in to Tchaikovsky’s heart-on-sleeve intensity.
Although supplied with a microphone, Curry did not use it to explain the background of the cello piece and the symphony, only briefly mentioning his affinity for Tchaikovsky and introducing Thron. Most concerts don’t require comments from the podium, but this seemed a lost opportunity for such a focused program with such unfamiliar fare.
[a version of this article appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer on October 24, 2010]