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There's an art to doing light classics (or, if you prefer, pops). Lord knows there's plenty of tripe abroad in the land, and some of it turns up hereabouts, at al fresco events and as "lures" that, in theory, are meant to draw in "new listeners" who – presenters think (or hope) – will become regular mainline subscribers in the future. Sometimes performances of such music are given with passion and attention to detail that reflect the sort of preparations bigger, more important scores generally receive. (Sometimes it's not so....)
In any event, it was a bit of a surprise to regard the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle's latest program, given that this group isn't into pandering to popular tastes. The lineup of works for string ensemble – string orchestra – included such chestnuts as Borodin's "Nocturne" (aka "And This Is My Beloved") and Mozart's ubiquitous Eine kleine.... But then there were those other things, far less frequently performed – works like Edvard Grieg's Two Elegaic Melodies, Giacomo Puccini's "Crisantemi," Dag Wirén's Serenade, a Handel concerto grosso, and one of Rossini's most infectiously charming and delightful string sonatas. After due consideration, then, this was clearly going to be a terrific program, one not to be missed.
Apparently a lot of people didn't agree because the audience was pretty sparse. The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle has been led since 1988 by Lorenzo Muti, and he has a way with orchestras. His still thick Italian-English is charming for many, and in the absence of program notes he introduced these works, shedding new light on many of them. Did you know – or had you ever considered – that the Grieg pieces are orchestrations of two songs? (Never mind that at the requisite tempi, no singer short of a Nilsson or a Flagstad could sing them....) And did you know that the march in Wirén's Serenade was inspired by goose-stepping Nazi invaders? And how long has it been since you thought about Rossini's age when he penned his six string sonatas – quartets, basically, for two violins, cello, and bass? (He was 12.)
The COT's strings include some of our very best artists, with Claudia Warburg serving as concertmaster. The seconds are headed by Tanya Schreiber, the violas, by Michael Castelo, and the cellos, by Virginia Hudson. The afternoon's sole bass player was Rebecca Marland, who stood in a sweet spot in the hall, so her contributions were often much more apparent than usual in some of the programmed works. Other fine artists dot the roster – including violinist Niccoló Muti, whom we recall when he was a boy soprano (as his papa had been, a generation before).
There were virtually no lapses in the performances – and this was a longer program than it might have appeared – so a discussion of how it was need not long detain us. Warburg, Schreiber, and Hudson played the solo parts in the Handel. Precision was the order of the day in the Wirén's Serenade's second movement, which is loaded up with pizzicato passages. Rossini's Sonata No. 3, in C, a score that used to be played by whole string sections of virtuoso orchestras (like Toscanini's NBC Symphony), has rarely sounded fresher or more buoyant. Even that Little Night Music thing seemed new and exciting. (And come to think of it, when was the last time it was given in concert here by pros? Not for several years, for sure.)
So this program, which could have been a humdrum stroll down memory lane, beat the weighted odds by a long shot and more. As it happened, the pre-concert music – provided by members of the orchestra's youth chamber music program – featured the afternoon's "heaviest" music! But the main event turned out to be one of the COT's finest hours – and the executants were just the string players. We gotta get back to hear the rest of the band, pronto!
(For information about remaining concerts, see http://cvnc.org/calendar/series/triangle/ChamberOrchestra.html.)