Lorenzo Muti (seated)
Niccolo Muti and Jill Muti
For their fourth concert of the season, the esteemed Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle offered readings of four classic works in a program focusing on “tragedy and hope.” The concert was not as much of a tearjerker as its title implied: the focus on hope was much more salient than any hint of tragedy.
Maestro Lorenzo Muti began the program with a surprise reading of Alexander Borodin’s "In The Steppes of Central Asia," a masterful tone poem composed in 1880; though a late addition to the program, the orchestra played the Slavic and Asian themes beautifully, with particularly splendid melodic passages in the oboe, English horn, clarinet, and horns. Muti did not announce the work’s title until the second half, but most of the audience expressed a pleasant familiarity with the popular work.
Maestro Muti’s 25-year-old son, Niccoló, served as soloist for Vaughan Williams’s "The Lark Ascending." The younger Muti sports an already impressive biography, and his playing demonstrated why: he offers elegance and surety and an incandescent tone quality, along with extremely precise intonation. Though "The Lark Ascending" can descend into treacle, the orchestra was not overly sentimental. In fact, this reading highlighted aspects I had not noticed before, like the drama of the muted strings at the opening, or the occasional five-beat phrase, which interrupts an otherwise placid melodic contour.
Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, composed in 1805, provided additional “hopeful” content to the program: Maestro Muti noted that the opera for which it was composed, Fidelio, is a rescue opera, a popular genre arising from the artistic responses to the French Revolution. The orchestra perfectly responded to Maestro Muti’s tempo changes, especially before the dramatic announcement from an offstage trumpet.
Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor was composed in 1816, when Schubert was only 19 years old. Like many of Schubert’s larger works, this symphony was not heard by the composer in his lifetime; it was premiered in 1849, twenty years after his death. Although historically the symphony might fall into the category of juvenilia or be regarded as any number of symphonies written in Vienna under the shadow of Beethoven, the musicians gave a mature reading of this work. The Andante was lovely, with wonderful dynamic swells, and the Menuetto was presented as a rather heavy romp. The fourth movement came across as rather intimate, and at moments it seemed that Maestro Muti was barely conducting. This is truly a chamber orchestra, and the close connection between the musicians and the conductor is a rare musical gift in such a fast-paced musical world.