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Review of Shostakovich's Ninth

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Continuing its eventful transition to a new musical director, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra hosted the second of three guest conductors who are parading into Belk Theater to launch the ensemble's 78th season. After a rocky start, the concert featuring Shostakovich's Ninth reached a pinnacle every bit as impressive as the summit of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto two weeks earlier.

The brass kicked Borodin's "Overture to Prince Igor" into its festive phase with newly appointed 2009-10 trumpet principal Karin Bliznik asserting her presence, but after some satisfying work by principal hornist Frank Portone, we had to confront an odd-sounding clarinet spot that had principal clarinetist Eugene Kavadlo shaking his head and fiddling with his mouthpiece afterwards.

All was well after intermission when CSO and guest conductor James Feddeck served up Shostakovich's arrangement of Mussorgsky's "Introduction to Khovantchina." Violins had a numinous Wagnerian sheen at the outset, and Kavadlo, back on form, played eloquently way up in flute range, answered in a perky spirit -- twice -- by principal oboist Hollis Ulaky. Lovely little patches by harpists Bette Roth and Christine Van Arsdale (and an uncredited celesta player) at the end.

Shosty's Ninth is a far grander thing, and Feddeck had no trouble grasping its devastating dialectic. Episodes of strained jollity, evoking extravagant public celebrations and manic wartime nationalism, alternate with long dreary episodes hinting at private despair under an oppressive totalitarian regime -- and just being Russian. Then the two strains merge into a phantasmagoric, controlled chaos. Erinn Frechette had a chance to show off some virtuosic satire on piccolo early in the symphony, and bassoonist Joshua Hood was heartbreakingly anguished in his laments toward the end.

Just as the prospect of listening to Shostakovich whisked away a significant segment of CSO's sophisticated subscribers during intermission, it also eclipsed the fine account that guest soloist Karen Gomyo and the orchestra gave of Max Bruch's Violin Concerto #1. If not as histrionic as other accounts of the work, Gomyo's spiel in the opening allegro was convincingly passionate, and she played confidently with plenty of elan and panache in the finale. While the flavor of the accompaniment inclined toward vanilla under Feddeck's baton, there was never the slightest shortage of energy. It's easy to love an orchestra so committed to its mission.

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