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Artistry trumps appetite at Chrisof Perick's absentee farewell 

Christof Perick's tenure with the Charlotte Symphony ended very much as it began back in 2001, with Beethoven's Symphony #9. Only this time, due to the volcanic ash cloud hovering over Europe, Perick couldn't be here. Nevertheless, since the ensemble our departing maestro has bequeathed to his successor was very much here last weekend at Belk Theater -- along with the mighty Oratorio Singers of Charlotte -- the season finale was emblematic of all Perick had accomplished and all he hadn't.

While a discerning ear could detect a clear uplift in musicianship and artistry as each of the sections of the Symphony took its turn in the spotlight, it was blatantly clear that Perick hadn't lifted Charlotte's appetite for music. Leaving questions of Symphony's woozy finances aside for the moment -- they certainly aren't unique -- I find it painful to Google concerts where Beethoven's "Choral Symphony" is played in search of other cities where absolutely nothing else is on the program. We do seem to be unique in that dubious respect. If somebody can find another city whose appetite is so easily satiated, I would be immensely consoled and less embarrassed.

Gracefully filling in for our absent maestro (a status that is also emblematic of the Perick regime), Stefan Sanderling, the best of the candidates who vied for Perick's position, may have been somewhat taken aback by how little he needed to do. When he competed against seven other aspirants for the vacant music directorship, Sanderling paired Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra with Mozart's Concert Rondo for guest soloist Peter Serkin, preceded it with Wolfgang's "Overture to La Clemenza di Tito," and ladled on nothing less than Shostakovich's Symphony #5 after intermission. A look at the empty seats at the Belk after the recess should have provided him with a hint why such ambitious programming wouldn't land him the Charlotte post. Last weekend's skimpy program would have hammered the point home.

Symphony and the Oreos were able to perform Ludwig's #9 quite creditably at the end of the Driehuys Era back in 1993, another reason why the challenge facing Sanderling last week wasn't exactly Everest. Yet there were aspects of the iconic work that were newly unveiled in last week's performances. The first two movements were more layered and lucid than I've heard them before, less abrupt and exciting at some points but with longer builds and glimmers of a larger architecture -- within the opening allegro and the ensuing scherzo, yet shining some light on the entire symphony.

There was certainly enough tension in those movements for the third movement adagio to be keenly perceived as a glorious onset of harmony. Violas and second violins were warmly transparent. The lazy tempo and flight of the first violins, wafting in above, were beautifully judged, and the woodwinds were admirably distilled and blended. Trumpets at the peak of the long, lordly crescendo launched by the pizzicato strings were as startling for their lack of heraldic crispness as they were for their calm, insouciant smoothness, gorgeously sustained by the violins each time they broke off. Will acting trumpet principal Karin Bliznik stay aboard next year? Hope so.

Cellos were outstanding, in dialogue with the trumpets, the violins, and -- most exquisitely -- with the winds in the opening of the grand choral finale. After all this sparring, the cellos began the famed brotherhood theme with a reverential quietude, violas repeating with violin lightness, violins coming aboard lighter still, leaving plenty of dramatic room for the majestic trumpets. Baritone soloist Jochen Kupfer certainly didn't have the luck of the draw in his 2008 Charlotte debut when he sang in Carmina Burana, but he surely had it in the Beethoven -- singing the first solo with a mellowness that brought tears to my eyes.

Lori Tiberio pumped out her cue for the reset of the choral movement with such martial gusto on her contrabassoon that she actually garnered an individual bow from Sanderling when the performance was done. Both she and Kupfer, however, upstaged tenor Steven Tharp, who was brought in to substitute for Tilman Lichdi. Heidi Meier, who sang the Gliere Concerto for Coloratura Soprano so brilliantly last month, was also stranded in Europe, but Layla Claire's debut -- limited to brief quartets and duets with mezzo Frances Pappas -- was not at all disappointing. Even Tharp had some intermittent flashes of power in his duet with Kupfer after his lackluster soloing was done.

Prepared by Scott Allen Jarrett, the Oreos were completely simpatico with the Sanderling concept of the "Choral," ascending from the hushed sacramental episodes to the swift ecstatic sections without the rabid barking that often breaks out amid the ultimate visionary exhortations. Born in East Berlin, the son of a legendary maestro, with an education and a career that bridge the gap between LA and Leipzig, Sanderling has the tools and the talent to perform a delicate surgery on this most familiar of chorales. Yes, Sanderling took the manic out of its Germanic aspects without losing the patient -- or its soul.

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