CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I don't believe that Bruckner's massive Symphony No. 8 in C minor had ever been played in Charleston. If not, it received its local premier performance Friday night at the Clay Center from the West Virginia Symphony.
Spanning nearly an hour and a half, with a brass section expanded by four horn players that also play Wagner tubas (which look like little left-handed tubas), the piece is, at turns, monumental and fleeting.
Conductor Grant Cooper made a solid case for the piece in an interpretation that didn't rush along yet never felt like it was dawdling.
The opening movement was tight formally and spacious in sonority. The scherzo hovered on the verge of ecstatic frenzy before the fleeting trio established a more plaintive mood.
Cooper did his best work in the slow movement that needed a tight rein on its overlapping, contrasting rhythms and an interpretive control to piece together its vacillating musical line, which was deliberate on the composer's part.
The finale never faltered through its many stops, starts and wanderings.
The orchestra sounded hearty and focused.
Everyone notices the brass in Bruckner because the parts are so bold, but the strings and woodwinds must have to be the musical equivalent of marathoners to play all of those notes.
Pianist Alexandre Moutouzine opened the concert, joining the orchestra for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467.
Moutouzine played without fault or blemish. He achieved an intimate conversation with the orchestra through clean attacks and pure tone, with just enough warmth to make the proceedings glow. In the fast outer movements, his phrases seemed to melt into each other without losing any structural solidity.
The graceful second movement sounded bejeweled. The finale was lighter than air.
Cooper used a much scaled-down string section: just a single double bass, three of violas and cellos, plus about double that number in the violin parts. That combination provided apt transparency for Moutouzine, yielding a magical discourse.
The concert repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center.