Arts & Culture

NC Symphony concert gets an intimate, baroque start

It’s always a pleasure to acknowledge a great evening in the concert hall. Friday night’s N.C. Symphony program was exactly that, highly satisfying in selection, structure and performance.

The concert began amusingly as music director Grant Llewellyn strode onto a bare stage. He asked the audience to imagine themselves at an early 18th-century estate where the after-dinner entertainment came from musicians among the guests. He mentioned that such groupings were conductor-less and therefore he would sit in the audience while orchestra members played Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3” on stage.

With three violinists standing on one side, three violists standing on the other, and three cellists, a bass player and a harpsichordist seated in the middle, the ensemble filled the hall with vibrant energy in this spirited music. There was visual interest as well, the repeated phrases seemingly tossed across from one soloist to another.

Llewellyn came back on stage to lead an expanded chamber grouping in Maurice Ravel’s lovely, delicate “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” a four-movement work imitating Couperin’s baroque dance suites. Llewellyn gave the performance charming effervescence, from the fluttering woodwinds of the Prelude and the gentle warmth of the Forlane to the sweet lullaby of the Menuet and the jaunty sparkle of the Rigaudon.

Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto might have been a major programming shift if Llewellyn and 30-year-old soloist Augustin Hadelich had emphasized grand orchestration and showy technique. But their take was refreshingly intimate and chamber-like, in keeping with the previous selections.

Hadelich’s lean, silvery tone pulled the listener into the billowing phrases of the first movement, his high-lying notes achingly sweet, aided by his 1723 Stradivarius. Llewellyn kept the orchestration beautifully balanced with Hadelich, matching the soloist’s quietly personal approach. On the other hand, Hadelich didn’t stint on the technical fireworks when called for, especially in the fiery third movement.

The sustained roar afterward occasioned an encore, Paganini’s daunting Caprice No. 5, in which Hadelich fully confirmed his estimable talents and bright future.