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Avdeeva, CSO team up for high-octane Chopin

Apr 24, 2015


Apart from his skills as a conductor and programmer, Christopher Warren-Green has a knack for unearthing soloists under 35 who may not yet be famous (at least in the United States) but can soar through concertos with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

The latest, Yulianna Avdeeva, illuminated Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 at Belk Theater Friday. At 29, she's just a decade older than Chopin was when he debuted it in Warsaw. (He actually wrote it before his Piano Concerto No. 1, which was published earlier.)

Avdeeva recognizes this concerto for what it is: the first large-scale work by a gifted teenager becoming a master composer for his instrument. (He never wrote a work that didn't incorporate a piano.)

She gave a performance that was bold and extroverted when Chopin asked her to be which was often but turned inward for the reflective portions of the second movement. The third took her through mood after mood: relaxed, jaunty, vigorous, merry.

The Russian-born pianist specializes in the Polish composer's music and won the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. So it was no surprise that she capped this bravura performance with a brisk, light-fingered encore of a Chopin waltz that slowed just enough in the middle to change colors.

Music director Warren-Green opened with the first suite adapted from Georges Bizet's "Carmen." Opera lovers who have responded to the piece onstage might have been surprised to hear what the Spanish-tinged melodies sounded like when played by the full orchestra, half again as large as the one likely to be in the Belk pit for Opera Carolina.

Bizet's exquisite woodwind writing came through, though the strings sounded thin a fact worth mentioning because, in the concluding Sibelius symphony, they acquired unexpected muscle and played rapid passages (evoking a river en route to the sea) strongly.

Warren-Green loves this symphony and gave the audience a brief description of it before the second half of the concert began. I do, too: The final section, inspired by 16 swans circling over the composer's head on one of his many despair-filled days, has no equal for me among symphonic movements of the last century.

The piece started promisingly, with a songful surge of violins after an opening horn motif, and Warren-Green kept the fast flow moving propulsively. Yet when he slowed down, the orchestra didn't respond with the same energy.

The players would catch fire intermittently, then burn out. They can certainly play Sibelius, and he can conduct it: The CSO and violinist Pekka Kuusisto did fine work with the composer's only concerto last month. But on Friday night, the through-line of this glorious symphony slipped in and out of their grasp.

Article at Charlotte Observer