At the All-Beethoven concert last Friday evening, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and maestro Christof Perick seemed bent on proving what we already knew: that all Beethoven is not created equal. Their fingers were on the scales, tipping the balance decisively away from Ludwig's Symphony #8 and in favor of his Mass in C Major.
Both of the outer vivace movements of the F major symphony were tepid, spiritless, and atomized. Distress in the horn section made the closing movement sound the worse of the two. In between, the scherzando second movement was afflicted with the same deconstruction, not playful at all. Only the minuetto seemed to have a hint of the thrust, excitement, and overarching architecture missing elsewhere.
With soprano Ute Selbig gracing the stage for Ah! Perfido, things improved markedly before intermission. There was a slight struggle with the difficulties of the recitative, which plunges instantly into the fury of a scorned lover. By the time Selbig reached the aria, plaintively begging for her paramour's return, she was in peak form. With its lean Mozartian scoring, the Perfido meshed perfectly with the CSO's established strengths, and their accompaniment brimmed with verve and confidence.
It's difficult to recall an occasion when the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte were less than superb. In the Mass, they were most glorious in the "Gloria," overpowering the trumpets and horns. Their exhilaration and thunder ignited both the orchestra and the phalanx of solo vocalists -- mezzo Elizabeth Shammash, tenor Garrett Sorenson, bass Brian Kontes, and Selbig. Amazingly, the CSO and the Oreos had only teamed up once before on this uplifting score in 1998 at Dana Auditorium, an acoustic graveyard for orchestral music. It was thrilling to finally hear this thrilling Beethoven alive and well at the Belk.