Monday, February 13, 2012

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - Tippett, Shostakovich, Honegger & Tchaikovsky - 02/11/12

Tippett: Divertimento on “Sellinger’s Round”
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No 1 in C Minor, Op. 35 – Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Honegger: Pastorale d’été
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48

In life as in music, timing is everything, and it is hard not to feel that a higher power is pulling some magical strings when things fall randomly but perfectly into place. And that is just what happened to me last week when after enjoying Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto on Thursday night in Washington, DC, I got to enjoy Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto on Saturday night in New York City. Moreover, the fact that the NY concert was going to be performed by the naturally charismatic, always exciting French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the esteemed trumpeter Louis Hanzlik, and the prestigious Orpheus Orchestra at Carnegie Hall could only promise a musical experience not to be missed.
Operating as a true democratic ensemble for almost four decades, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has remained resolutely conductor-less. This, however, has not prevented it from reaching impressive heights in terms of musical excellence, artistic innovation, audience involvement and community outreach. Accordingly, their open-mindedness makes for interesting choices: Beside the Shostakovich piece, the eclectic program they presented last weekend also included my beloved Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky, and two short works that I did not know: Tippett’s Divertimento on “Sellinger’s Round” and Honegger’s Pastorale d’été.

Written upon Britten's request for a variation on a famous tune from the time of Queen Elisabeth I for the coronation of Queen Elisabeth II, Tippett’s Divertimento on “Sellinger’s Round” probably makes the most sense if the audience is at least slightly familiar with English composers from the past. But while my lack of knowledge in that field was a clear impediment, I still found the work more engaging than two concert-goers across the aisle, engrossed in their iPhones, did.
Next was Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 1, a dense, petulant smorgasbord of various ideas and influences, which the composer wrote for himself and a minimalist accompaniment of strings and trumpet. On Saturday, Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the formidable soloist in charge of it, effortlessly switching from lyrical Romanticism to sarcastic wit, every mood firmly grounded in his dazzling virtuosity. Throughout the piece, the incongruous appearances of the trumpet whimsically added to the circus-like atmosphere, and if the whole adventure could be seen as sometimes lacking in genuine emotions, it was nevertheless a lot of sparkling fun.
After the constant inventiveness of Shostakovich, we calmed down during intermission and then moved on to a delicately melodic Pastorale d’été (Summer Pastoral) with Arthur Honegger’s short and lovely composition.
If the Shostakovich concerto on the program was more flash that substance, we certainly got our dose of heart-on-sleeve emotions with his fellow Russian composer Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Opening with the unforgettable soaring motif that will return later, the work cannot but eloquently speak to the string lover than I am, and it indeed gets to me every time. In the wonderful hands of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular hit became a marvel of luxurious beauty and vibrant vitality, concluding my first Carnegie Hall concert of 2012 with immaculate heavenly bliss.

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