Monday, March 21, 2011

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with Rudulf Buchbinder, piano. March 19, 2011.

Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, Section Parquet Right (Row Y, Seat 14, $25).

Concerto for Small Orchestra, Op. 34 (1927) by Albert Roussel (1869-1937).
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (1785) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Waves (1988) by Fred Lerdahl (b. 1943).
Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543 (1788) by Mozart.

The concert began with the Orchestra’s executive director speaking of the recent Japanese tragedies (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plants) and vowing to do the best to get the orchestra to Japan in 2012 as planned (including Sendai). The orchestra then played as a tribute Faure’s Pavanne. The audience applauded afterwards which I thought was slightly inappropriate. On the other hand, there was some awkwardness that needed to be broken up, and applauding perhaps was one way of doing it.

The Program Notes says that Roussel was a contemporary of Debussy and Ravel, but not nearly as well-known. This concerto for small orchestra represents Roussel’s later work and his “mature sound.” For me it also explains why his work is not played that often, since it definitely failed to grab me in any way, except it is thankfully short at about 12 minutes. The three movements are described by the annotator as (i) “rambunctious” Allegro; (ii) “central” Andante; and (iii) “concluding” Presto (well, there is more to the description).

Neither of the two Mozart pieces is considered to be among most popular of the composer's oeuvre (hey, I got to use this word, even though I had to murder the sentence). The piano concerto was composed by Mozart when he was very popular. He finished the Piano Concerto the day before the performance. The Program Notes talks about a subscription series with 151 patrons – evidently you didn’t need a huge audience to make it as a performer/composer during those times. I do not know the nuances of piano performance to distinguish a good one from an exquisite one, so I can just say I found this quite enjoyable. The lines were crisp, the dynamics were fluid, and the interplay between soloist and orchestra was good. The movements are (i) Allegro; (ii) Romanze; and (iii) Rondo: Allegro assai. Someone’s cell phone rang just as the soloist was about to launch into a cadenza; I guess these incidents can’t be helped. If the biography is any guide, Buchbinder is an impressively-credentialed artist.

The symphony was written three years later as a group of three (39, 40, 41). Mozart had fallen on hard times by then. Music historians think he was trying to drum up some business with these compositions, and sadly may not have heard them before he died. I do not find the performance of this Symphony particularly noteworthy, though. The four movements are (i) Adagio - Allegro; (ii) Andante con moto; (iii) Menuetto: Allegretto; and (iv) Finale: Allegro.

After the intermission, a WQXR DJ (forget her name) came on stage and had a short discussion with Lerdahl and violist Nardo Roy about the next piece “Waves.” It probably wasn’t rehearsed before hand; it certainly sounded that way. Two take-aways: waves refer to musical energy, and Roy finds the music to be complex at many levels.

This piece was written 20-plus years ago for three chamber orchestras, including the Orpheus. The orchestra first played it in 1989, a year after it was composed. And that was the last time it played the piece. Unless there are other connections, to say there is a history between the composer and the orchestra is stretching it a bit. What I am curious about is when the orchestra will play it next: another 20 or so years later?

As with the last Orpheus concert I went to, my impression of the orchestra is just so-so. It actually makes me wonder if Carnegie Hall is as acoustically perfect as it is said to be. Nonetheless, I renewed my subscription for the next season. At $25 a ticket it is not a tough decision to make.

No comments: