Symphony Unfurls Rachmaninov in His Long, Emotional Glory

By Lawrence Toppman

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) officials have been close-mouthed about which guest conductors this season have applied for the job of music director. I’d guess Lan Shui isn’t one of them, for three reasons.

First, he retired from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 2019 after 22 seasons as music director; he may not want a permanent position where he’s again expected to lift an orchestra to the next artistic level. Second, he’d be in his late 60s when he started. Conductors have the lifespan of Galapagos tortoises, but the CSO may want to go with someone younger for the long run. Third, he told WDAV last week how much he enjoys his current life of guest conducting.

So his concerts this weekend with the CSO may represent our only chance to hear him. He led a meaty piece he recorded 15 years ago with the Singapore Symphony: Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, which he played with unfailing passion across a span of a little more than an hour. (Rachmaninov sanctioned cuts, and Eugene Ormandy – his friend and champion with the Philadelphia Orchestra – made about eight minutes’ worth. I’m with Ormandy.)

Lan recorded all of Rachmaninov’s orchestral works with his Singapore crew and obviously loves this composer. His introductory remarks set the symphony up as a voyage from emotional despondence and self-doubt to triumph, and that’s what he gave us.

He delivered the piece with a combination of welcome vigor and excessive languor. He drove the orchestra briskly through fast passages, building to tremendous climaxes. Elsewhere, he slowed way down, which let us hear orchestral voices clearly but drained passages of momentum. If the third movement adagio unfurled at a well-played crawl, the more extroverted passages never lacked luster.

He’d already established that format in Samuel Barber’s Overture to “The School for Scandal” at the start of the program. Its bustling opening, which represents the buzzing of gossips in Richard Sheridan’s play, bristled with energy, but the romantic theme in the middle of the piece lost its nimbleness at a heavy-footed pace.

Lan proved a sympathetic supporter to pianist Mari Kodama in Felix Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto, a work as shiny, superficially attractive and hollow as a Christmas ornament. Mendelssohn finished eight concertos: The Second Violin Concerto – his last concerto, the one we all know — deserves its status as a masterpiece, but the rest can be lumped in with other glittering showcases turned out by 19th-century composers.

That’s no reflection on Kodama. She gave us bravura runs in the opening movement, attempted futilely to wring poetry from the central andante and thundered through the strutting, percussive finale. I own recordings by Murray Perahia and Rudolf Serkin, two of the greatest pianists of the last century, and they don’t get much more out of it.

Kodama’s performance mainly made me want to hear what she’d do with a meaningful work. Her recorded legacy includes all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos; perhaps we’ll be lucky enough another time to get one of those.

Pictured: Lan Shui, condutor; by Chris Christodoulou/BBC Proms London.

Has Jessica Cottis Pulled Ahead in CSO’s Music Director Race?

By Lawrence Toppman

“I wonder if I can outdo Beethoven at the top of his game,” said no sensible composer ever during the last 220 years. But I’d bet Felix Mendelssohn had that fleeting thought as he labored over his Second Symphony, which – depending on tempos taken by the conductor – was either the longest or second longest symphony in the world when he finished it in 1840.

The other contender, Beethoven’s Ninth, had premiered 16 years earlier, when Mendelssohn was a teenager. Both consist of orchestral sections about as long as the symphonies the two had previously written, followed by a choral finale with soloists.

But where Beethoven was content with a quarter-hour of singing, Mendelssohn tips the scales in favor of the voices with a 40-minute vocal section. That’s why he titled it “Symphony-Cantata on Words of the Holy Bible for Soloists, Choir and Orchestra,” though his publishers dubbed it either “Lobgesang” (“Hymn of Praise”) or Symphony No. 2. (He wrote it after the one published as Symphony No. 4, but let’s not get into that.)

Conductor Jessica Cottis, three soloists, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and Charlotte Master Chorale successfully brought off this odd hybrid Friday at Belk Theater. Though the piece was initially set to stand alone, as Beethoven’s Ninth does when the CSO plays it, Antonín Dvořák’s tone poem “The Golden Spinning Wheel” preceded it — an interesting balance for the evening, juxtaposing music about amputations, murder and witchcraft with praises to God.

Cottis made her second appearance in two seasons, after conducting four pieces from the last 100 years in January 2022. This weekend’s concerts must have given her a leg up on the music director’s job: She got a chance to show what she could do with 19th-century music, still a huge part of the CSO’s repertoire, and she led a large choral work. The orchestra generally programs two each year, “Messiah” and one other; we’ll hear Verdi’s Requiem next season.

She also charmed the audience with her sanitized account of the tone poem, spoken in an accent that recalled her native Australia. You’ll find a more explicit version here, but her milder one suited the music: Dvořák had written all his symphonies, concertos and great chamber works when he created five tone poems in 1896-97, and his genial personality didn’t suit the darker material. (He had one masterpiece left in him, the opera “Rusalka” in 1900.)

They’re all pleasantly unremarkable and literal: You get spooky “walking through the woods” music for suspense, horn fanfares for hunters and whirling winds for the spinning wheel. Cottis paced it intelligently over a long 27 minutes.

After intermission came the Mendelssohn. She had a firm grasp on the subtleties of the material, found ways to freshen repetitive sections, matched the orchestra well with the  singers and seemed at ease conducting the chorale, which Kenney Potter had prepared thoroughly as usual.

Soprano Patricia Westley brought shimmering high notes to her utterances of joy and blended sweetly with Deanna Breiwick, whose attractive soprano scarcely got an airing. (She shared one duet with Westley and had no solos. Did Mendelssohn owe some soprano a small favor?)

Tenor Joseph Tancredi, a 25-year-old graduate student at Curtis Institute of Music, provided the emotional heart of the drama when he asked God’s Watchman (in the Book of Isaiah) when the darkness encompassing him would pass. He sang with fervor, lustrous sound and an intelligence belying his years, varying repeated phrases and communicating clearly in even the quietest passages. Memories of Fritz Wunderlich, my favorite lyric tenor, didn’t seem out of place.

Pictured: Jessica Cottis by Timothy Jeffes/Sydney Symphony.

Why The New Charlotte Symphony Season Matters Next Year More Than Ever

By Lawrence Toppman

British auto engineer Alec Issigonis famously described a camel as “a horse designed by a committee.” Yet in the absence of a music director, a committee from the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) designed a season as rare locally as a unicorn.

I’ve always met CSO season announcements with the same response: “This concert, very cool. This one…maybe, if I’m not busy. This I can easily skip.” Now, for the first time in 43 years, I see a Classical Series where every concert seems essential. Even the Pops and Family series contain don’t-miss stuff. The CSO just set the innovation bar higher for every local arts organization.

You’ll find the entire lineup here. Let me explain briefly why I’m buzzed.

First, it’s packed with unusual things. Except for Verdi’s Requiem and Handel’s “Messiah,” which both require a full evening, and one program featuring Wieniawski and Kodály, each concert in the classical series includes a local premiere. Instead of one brief new piece and two familiar ones, the ratio is often reversed.

Second, women and composers of color get stronger representation, not just in eight-minute curtain-raisers but in works that anchor programs. I’ve beefed for years about the absence of William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony,” the first symphony by a Black composer performed by a major orchestra. Here it comes.

Third, these concerts have been thoughtfully coordinated. For example, the one conducted by former music director Christopher Warren-Green includes three British pieces about the sea, culminating in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony to texts by Walt Whitman.

Traditionalists will get Beethoven’s “Eroica,” Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” Holst’s “The Planets.” But consider these less common highlights:

Oct. 6 – 8: Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja: Anthem of Unity” and the “Butterfly Lovers Concerto,” a lilting piece by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao. Violinist Melissa White, founding member of the Harlem Quartet, will solo.

Oct. 20 – 22: Not only Still’s symphony but Emilie Mayer’s obscure “Faust” overture and Dvořák’s spooky tone poem “The Noonday Witch.” (Note that the symphony has restored Sunday matinees for some programs.)

Jan. 19 – 20: Jennifer Koh plays Missy Mazzoli’s violin concerto “Procession.” (It’s a season for hip violinists.) Copland’s “Billy the Kid” suite is the one familiar work alongside Samuel Barber’s Second Essay and Jennifer Higdon’s “Cold Mountain” suite, co-commissioned by the CSO.

Feb. 2 – 3: The suite from Bartok’s ballet “The Miraculous Mandarin” and John Adams’ symphony, “Doctor Atomic.”

Feb. 16 – 18: Zoltán Kodály’s stirring “Dances of Galanta” and Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No.2, a good choice for concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu.

March 1 – 2: Pianist Michelle Cann plays a work she has championed, Florence Price’s Concerto in One Movement. It’s a smart pairing for “Rhapsody in Blue,” written 10 years earlier in 1924.

March 22 – 23: Not only Julia Perry’s “A Short Piece for Orchestra” but the obscure trumpet concerto by Oskar Böhme, played by CSO principal trumpeter Alex Wilborn.

April 5 – 6: Wang Jie’s Symphonic Overture “America, the Beautiful.” Wang came to Charlotte last fall when her husband, “Performance Today” emcee Fred Child, hosted WDAV’s broadcast of the CSO’s season-opening concert. She must have impressed folks at the symphony.

April 26 – 27: Vaughan Williams’s “Sea Symphony,” Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from the opera “Peter Grimes” and Welsh composer Grace Williams’ “Sea Sketches.”

May 17 – 18: Another well-curated program. “The Planets” gets matched with Caroline Shaw’s “The Observatory” and Jeremy Lamb’s “A Ride on ‘Oumuamua,” inspired by the first known interstellar object to travel our solar system.  

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Sept. 20 gala with Renée Fleming, one of the most popular operatic sopranos of the last 35 years, or the Feb. 9 – 10 Pops concerts with unclassifiable Regina Carter. She’ll play jazz-tinged shows that include David Schiff’s concerto “Four Sisters,” which pays homage to Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

If I ever got up on Saturday mornings before 11, I’d be going to two Family Series concerts. The one on Feb. 10 features music by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Europe’s’ first important Black composer; he’s having a moment, as the biopic “Chevalier” comes out in a few weeks. The one on April 13 pairs Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” with “Thurber’s Dogs,” a suite celebrating James Thurber’s drawings by Peter Schickele. (Yes, the P.D.Q. Bach guy.)

If you’re wondering whom to applaud for this fresh programming, thank the committee: president and CEO David Fisk, director of artistic planning Carrie Graham, resident conductor Christopher James Lees (who conducts the Family Series), principal flutist Victor Wang (chair of the musicians’ Artistic Advisory Committee), cellist Sarah Markle, clarinetist Allan Rosenfeld, timpanist Jacob Lipham and principal trumpet Alex Wilborn.

Note that no Classical Series concert has a conductor listed on the website, except the one with Warren-Green. Officially, the symphony expects to name a new music director by the end of 2023. Unofficially, I hear the choice will be made by September, which means we’ll have seen all the candidates by the time the current season ends in May.

Whoever the CSO picks will undoubtedly share the philosophy that motivated the ground-breaking choices for 2023-24. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Pictured: Melissa White by Dario Accosta.

A Happy Union of Erik and Igor and Ludwig and Paolo

By Lawrence Toppman

Officially, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) concert last weekend paid homage to the exhibit of Picasso landscapes next door at the Mint Museum. Picasso designed sets and costumes for Erik Satie’s “Parade” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” when they appeared in Paris a century ago as ballets, and those comprised the first half of the CSO’s program.

Unofficially, the concert gave guest conductor Paolo Bortolameolli a second chance to impress musicians and audience during the long search for a permanent music director. I warmed to his conducting for the second time, but in a different way.

He anchored the program in February 2022 with John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1, which seethes with angst and bitterness while commemorating friends who died from AIDS. There Bortolameolli took us down to despairing depths for 45 minutes before the meditative finale.

He came back last weekend more thickly bearded, more chatty and with a grin that lasted through all three compositions. As he conducted the merry finale to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, the last he wrote before upending the symphonic world with the Eroica, Bortolameolli seemed to be giving and getting joy.

Even the composers might agree the first two works on the program were lightweight. Satie was in his most puckish mood when he created this fluff inspired by Parisian music halls and American silent films: He included sections for tap shoes rapped on a desktop, police and air raid sirens, balloons to be popped dramatically, water sloshed in a jug, even hanging bottles played with tiny mallets. The music doesn’t amount to much; it’s bland for a ballet intended to startle the bourgeoisie, but the CSO jogged through it pleasantly.

Without the three singers who enliven the full-length “Pulcinella,” the eight-movement suite seems repetitive. Stravinsky based this work on Baroque themes – once thought to be by Pergolesi, now known to be the work of four or five lesser composers – and it needs the jaunty outlook Bortolameolli and the musicians provided to avoid becoming a drawn-out joke.

Beethoven’s symphony justified the ticket price. He finished it in 1802, around the time he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament to his brothers. This letter explained that he felt suicidal over his near-deafness, and only art had kept him alive. He determined to embark on what he called the New Path, and the world-changing Eroica emerged the next year.

His symphonic voice in 1802 held echoes of Mozart and Haydn; the latter was still alive and would surely have appreciated the elegance of the second movement of the Symphony No. 2. The piece mingles drama, old-fashioned sweetness and raucous humor; more than any work of Beethoven I know, it represents the musical world he’d soon leave behind while offering glimmers of the future.

The players relished this meat-and-potatoes entrée after two bowls of musical meringue. By the time they reached the finale, violins fiddling furiously and woodwinds making rude noises one critic related to Beethoven’s chronic gastric distress, they seemed to be enjoying the music as much as Bortolameolli and the rest of us.

Pictured: Paolo Bortolameolli by Jorge Brantmayer; cropped with modified background.

Mei-Ann Chen Makes a Triumphant Return with Charlotte Symphony

by Lawrence Toppman

The most recent Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) concert at Knight Theater was Old Home Week. Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu got his annual solo outing in Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, which played to his strengths. The meat-and-potatoes 19th-century programming that served the CSO for many years brought three works from different decades of the Romantic Era: Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C major, Bruch’s concerto, César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor.

And Mei-Ann Chen made a welcome return five years after conducting one of the most satisfying oddities in CSO history: A pipa concerto by Zhao Jiping so rare it has never been recorded. Her take on Franck added her to the list of top candidates for permanent music director. More than anyone I know, including French masters Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, she almost convinced me Franck’s lone symphony wasn’t waaaayyyy too long.

She did that, fascinatingly, by embracing its excesses, rather than trying to hide them. The first movement, which grinds a pleasantly melodic theme into the ground through countless variations, acquired grandeur. It began to sound like Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” piling climax upon climax and reaching a kind of luxuriant ecstasy. (Perhaps Franck had read Wagner’s score, as the opera hadn’t yet come to Paris by 1888.)

Chen broadened tempos in the first two movements instead of rushing them, justly confident that the musicians’ big sound and her own passion would carry the day. Then, as Franck continued to chew his slender musical cud in the third movement, her fire and intensity prevented any feeling of lassitude.

She had earlier proved her mettle with Mendelssohn’s only published orchestral piece, which suggested not brother Felix but an opera overture by the earlier Carl Maria von Weber: Carefully crafted, varying in mood from contemplation to tumult, ably scored and melodically unmemorable. Her piano pieces and chamber works demand reappraisal – I’m just getting to appreciate them myself – but on this evidence, she hadn’t found an orchestral voice. (Not that her family’s or society’s lack of encouragement helped, of course.)

Bruch, on the other hand, gave us plenty of melodies in his concerto. It suits Lupanu, whose pairing with Chen proved especially apt. He provided tenderness, sweetness and a sense of yearning; she brought drama and Brahmsian weight to the orchestral portions, never swamping him when they played together but bringing the orchestra to full power when they didn’t.

This piece has not been ranked among the greatest violin concertos, though I’m not sure why: It lacks the profundity of Beethoven or Brahms, the mystery of Sibelius or heart-on-the-sleeve emotions of Tchaikovsky, but it’s as appealing as those by Felix Mendelssohn, Mozart or Shostakovich.

In fact, the whole evening consisted of works musical history relegates to the second tier or below. Michael Steinberg, in his helpful tome “The Symphony,” makes room for discussions of symphonies by Lou Harbison, Karl Hartmann and Roger Sessions but can’t spare a page for Franck’s. Perhaps he’d have changed his mind, if he’d heard what Chen has to say about it.

Pictured: Mei-Ann Chen by Simon Pauly.

Sparkling Grieg, Somber Brahms

By Lawrence Toppman

You can play Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto weightily, with thundering chords and noble grandeur. Or tenderly, with a romantic flame at its core. Or dreamily, with what Mahler called “innigkeit,” a poignant intimacy. Or, if you have enough imagination, with all three qualities in turn, as Joyce Yang did Friday with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra – and all of that in the opening movement.

She flirted with schmaltz in the slow middle section of the concerto, playing at a stretched-out tempo that could have been her choice or guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein’s. (He preferred those in the Brahms symphony that followed.) But in the finale, Yang returned to the thrilling combination of fireworks and deeper feeling that made the whole package memorable.

The show at Belk Theater began with a curiosity: the second-act prelude from Ethyl Smyth’s opera “The Wreckers.” I’ve heard five of Smyth’s large-scale works, and the instrumental pieces stick in memory longer than the vocal ones.

The opera tells of “wreckers” off the Cornish coast, who lure ships onto the rocks with misplaced lights, kill the passengers and plunder the cargo. This prelude could have been one of the “Sea Pieces” excerpted from Benjamin Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes:” We heard wind in the rattle of the snare drum, waves in the watery notes of the harp, a storm surging in the brass. The CSO played at the top of its form for Weilerstein, as it would nearly all night.

Yang then delivered not only her rendition of Grieg’s lone concerto but an appealing encore: a nocturne from his fifth book of Lyric Pieces for solo piano. I’m used to hearing the orchestrated version in the Lyric Suite, four Lyric Pieces set by Grieg and Anton Seidl, but her playing had so much color that I didn’t miss the larger sound.

Weilerstein shared a fascinating story after intermission: All three composers on the program met at a dinner in 1888, along with Tchaikovsky. That’s hard to imagine, as the Russian had earlier referred to Brahms as “a giftless bastard,” but perhaps he’d mellowed by then.

Weilerstein then explained his view of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony: It’s a musical response to the anti-Semitism and social decay he saw around him in mid-1880s Vienna, ending in “an apocalyptic destructive fury.” He led a performance that fulfilled his vision: somber, thick with angst, joyless and furiously explosive at the end. Austrian music critic Eduard Hanslick likened this symphony to “a dark well: The longer we look into it, the more brightly the stars shine back.” We saw the well, but where were the stars?

Weilerstein’s unfussy conducting revealed fresh details in the instrumentation, partly because he went so slowly. The unusually drawn-out second movement, an andante moderato, threatened to become a stately funeral march. The only scherzo in a Brahms symphony, bouncily adapted by Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman as “Cans and Brahms,” is marked “allegro giocoso.” That means “playful,” but here it had a stern Teutonic uplift.

The orchestra committed itself completely to these ideas, and the performance cohered in the powerful last movement: tense, thrusting forward, ultimately blazing with energy. Weilerstein had the skill and intelligence to get exactly what he wanted from these musicians. I wonder if it’s what Brahms wanted.

Pictured: Joyce Yang by KT Kim.

Parameswaran + Sibelius + CSO = Excitement

By Lawrence Toppman

Like many classical concertgoers, I often raise my eyebrows when folks erupt into applause during the silence between movements of a symphony. I know that behavior can be disruptive, distracting or rude. On Friday night at Knight Theater, I did it anyway.

Guest conductor Vinay Parameswaran had just dropped his baton arm and slumped an inch or two after leading the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) through the opening of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5. The movement had apt grandeur, a thrilling undercurrent of menace, a tremendous kind of humming energy and beauty. In those 15 minutes, he showed why the CSO might want him as music director. And as he took a respite before the second half of the piece, I was not alone in clapping for him.

The second movement started with an oddly finicky daintiness that eventually vanished when full-blooded melody flowed forth. From there to the end, allegedly inspired by a circle of swans above Sibelius’ head, Parameswaran showed skill and insight. For instance, he brought the strings up to be as prominent as the brass in the glorious finale. (Pop culture factoid: The band First Class copied this brass melody exactly in 1974 in the top-5 hit “Beach Baby.”)

The symphony capped a program of lesser-known but admirable works: Gabriella Smith’s chameleonic “Field Guide,” Benjamin Britten’s playful song cycle “Les Illuminations,” and William Grant Still’s somber, sometimes majestic “Poem for Orchestra.”

Parameswaran described Smith’s piece as an interpretation of sounds collected on rambles along the California coast and into South America; he said she wrote it for the 70th birthday of her mentor, John Adams, and suggested we listen for Adams’ influence in the motoric rhythms.

Sure enough, I heard that, along with what may have been the buzzing of insects, sounds of the deep woods, mild cacophony of traffic and unidentifiable noises, occasionally in conflict with a warm melody that emerged and submerged. The finale brought gratifying cohesion, possibly suggesting the unity of nature.

I’m used to tenors singing Arthur Rimbaud’s oblique lyrics in “Les Illuminations,” but Britten wrote it in his 20s for a soprano. The absence of a printed program, my inability to speak French and my lack of desire to squint at texts on my cellphone meant I enjoyed Alexandra Smither’s voice without worrying about Rimbaud’s meaning. (A sample: “These are cities! Processions of Mabs in russet, opaline gowns climb the ravines. Farther up, with their feet in the waterfall and the brambles, stags suckle Diana. The Bacchantes of the suburbs sob, and the moon burns and howls. Venus enters into the caverns of blacksmiths and hermits.”)

Smither had an operatic but never histrionic sense of drama and comedy, and her voice remained attractively intimate, despite a widening vibrato near the end of the 21-minute cycle.

Still remains one of my favorite little-known composers. I wish the CSO would play any of his five symphonies, the first being my choice, but I was glad to hear his 10-minute “Poem” live. He premiered it in 1944, when the outcome of World War II was in doubt. He’d served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, the “War to End All Wars,” and seems in this intense piece to be expressing anger and frustration at humankind’s continued stupidity.Though it moves toward a major-key ending that could be interpreted as guarded optimism, its most potent moments come earlier. (Here, too, the brass shone.) The CSO has seldom sounded so big, so muscular. If Parameswaran can get that sound at will, he’s a serious contender for the job.

Pictured: Conductor Vinay Parameswaran; credit Gus Chan.

Ryan Joins List of Top Contenders for Charlotte Symphony Job

by Lawrence Toppman

The Charlotte Symphony played three pieces, all American and all premiered after World War II, this weekend at Belk Theater. That wouldn’t be news in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Here, it is: I don’t recall the CSO grouping three American works from the last 80 years, let alone to such memorable effect, in its Classical Season. (I count Austrian-born Erich Wolfgang Korngold as American; he fled the Nazis in 1934 and became a U.S. citizen.)

Kwamé Ryan, whose appearance as guest conductor last season had to be delayed until this month, spent 90 minutes showing why he’ll be added to the list of top candidates for music director. He had the measure of John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” Korngold’s Violin Concerto and especially Aaron Copland’s Symphony No.3.

Adams’ percolating overture whizzed by in appropriately flashy and forgettable style. Then came Korngold’s concerto in an unexpectedly serious performance from Bulgarian-American violinist Bella Hristova.

“Unexpectedly” because many soloists, knowing Korngold borrowed themes from four of his film scores for the three-movement work, stress the schmaltz that can undermine the piece. That’s why critic Irving Kolodin cruelly said the concerto held “more corn than gold.”

But Jascha Heifetz played the premiere performance and recording with serious dignity. Hristova followed that model in this last Romantic-style concerto: She was serene in the pyrotechnic first movement, tender but not dreamily vague in the middle section, then jaunty yet never – well, corny — in the rollicking jig of the finale. Ryan matched each mood sensitively.

He spoke briefly before the Copland symphony, tying its genesis in 1944 to the four freedoms espoused by President Franklin Roosevelt: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. (He also gave away the surprise: The last movement is a set of variations on Copland’s 1942 “Fanfare for the Common Man.”)

Ryan’s first movement showed us a muscular Copland, one who wasn’t afraid to be wistful or contemplative but mostly strode boldly along. The second movement combined the jazzier feeling of Copland’s 1930s works with his Americana strain: Skittering hints of Prokofiev in the winds and faint echoes of “Simple Gifts” from “Appalachian Spring” co-existed comfortably.

The lighter-hearted slow movement has sometimes seemed long to me, especially in Leonard Bernstein’s famous late-career recording, but not here. The “Fanfare” finale began with majesty, made the transition to visceral excitement, then returned to grandeur for a conclusion as stirring as anything Copland ever wrote.

Ryan referred to himself as European in his speech, noting that Ukrainians don’t enjoy those four freedoms nowadays and any nation might lose them at any time. He’s really a citizen of the world: Born in Canada, raised in Trinidad, a student in the United Kingdom and Hungary, conducting regularly in France and Korea (among other places).

His discography ranges from Beethoven and Schubert to Morton Feldman and Olga Neuwirth. If he does end up here, I’ll be curious to see how he expands Charlotte Symphony programming during his tenure. His bosses will have to give him some scope.