RALEIGH — The N.C. Symphonys program Friday in Meymandi Concert Hall was a lesson in the range of responses music can evoke. That the conductor, orchestra and soloist were all in peak form made that lesson enjoyable and educational.
After a tightly sprung Overture to Coriolan, Beethovens 1807 piece for a play about a Roman general, conductor Grant Llewellyn was joined by the eminent, award-winning pianist, Yefim Bronfman, for Beethovens Piano Concerto No. 2. This 1795 work, composed several years before Concerto No. 1 but published later, shows its Classical period roots. Mozarts influence is evident, and there are only a few indications of Beethovens later, distinctive style.
Conductor and pianist resisted any urge to make the piece into later Beethoven. Llewellyn set the mood with the first movements gently lilting introduction, followed by Bronfmans clear, precise fingering that avoided showy display while keeping the tone light and teasing. For the lovely second movement, Bronfmans crystalline playing was achieved with almost imperceptible gestures, the quiet, simple melody mesmerizing. In the perky third movement, Bronfman allowed himself little head tilts but otherwise economically spun out the jaunty runs and trills. Llewellyns sensitive accompaniment made the whole work a small but brilliantly faceted gem.
As if to prove that he could play in an entirely different way, Bronfman offered an encore, the finale of Prokofievs Sonata No. 7. It was brash, percussive and dissonant but impressively controlled, bringing the audience to its feet again to acknowledge Bronfmans extraordinary talents.
The encore signaled the complete change of atmosphere with Prokofievs Symphony No. 6. Premiered in 1947, it easily suggests the composers reaction to Second World War and the coming Soviet regime. The first movements wintery landscape is blasted open by a cacophonous battle; the seconds nostalgic melody is suddenly dominated by clockwork rigidity; the third is a continuing battle between a defiantly happy tune and ominous dark rumblings.
Llewellyns championing of this rarely programed work was evident in his firm grasp of every shifting section, urging the brass to their fiercest and the strings to their most heartfelt. His conviction paved the way to an appreciation of Prokofievs harsh, weary worldview.