RALEIGH — With just two works on the program, the N.C. Symphony concert Friday demonstrated many of the qualities that draw listeners to an orchestral performance: intimacy and grandeur, elegance and abandon, individual expression and massed unity. It also illustrated the dramatic evolution of orchestral composition from the end of the 18th century to the end of the 19th.
Franz Joseph Haydn’s 1792 Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon is full of joy, sunshine and wit. Its three short movements offer felicitous melodies and catchy rhythms in glittering precision. Conductor Grant Llewellyn set a springy pace that kept things bubbling along while allowing room for the soloists’ individuality, here expertly expressed by leading players from the orchestra.
Haydn favored the violin with the showiest part, and associate concertmaster Dovid Friedlander took it on with gusto, his warm tone and clean precision delightfully personalized. Cellist Bonnie Thron underpinned the proceedings with her mellow bowings, while oboist Melanie Wilsden provided a jolly sweetness and bassoonist John Pederson added a good-humored burble. Their convivial nature in sharing the spotlight registered charmingly.
Anton Bruckner’s 1883 Symphony No. 7 was about as stark a contrast to the Haydn as one could find. The four-movement, 65-minute work calls for a large orchestra with an emphasis on brass, including four “Wagner” tubas, an instrument Richard Wagner had made for his Ring Cycle operas to achieve a particularly noble and somber effect.
Within each movement, Bruckner constantly alternates between thrilling massive outbursts and soothing gentle episodes, interspersed with rafter-raising climaxes, a challenge for the conductor to keep disparate parts knitted into a whole.
Llewellyn built impressive architecture in the sonorous surgings and gave appropriate serenity to the quiet meanderings. The funereal second movement had subtle but palpable emotion.
Llewellyn’s overall approach seemed to emphasize the contrasting sections rather than linking them into a continuum, but he coaxed a marvelous lushness and majesty from the orchestra, proving once again the players’ admirable flexibility and expertise.