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Sometimes you gotta wonder if we just have an embarrassment of musical riches in the Triangle – more riches, that is, than we have audiences to enjoy them. We know it was a gorgeous day and the kids were just out of school, and maybe everyone had made a mass exodus to the beach. But those things shouldn’t account for such a small turnout at the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle’s final concert of the season.
COT is a first rate ensemble of professionals, but it never seems to get the audience it deserves. Is it the venue? The day and time? The repertory? Too many local orchestras? It’s hard to say. There is a hefty list of donors and even endowed chairs, but in rather too lengthy opening remarks, the new president David Lindquist seemed to be begging more for bodies than for cash. Yes, it’s worth going to downtown Durham on a Sunday afternoon to hear it.
The highlight of the afternoon was Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in f minor, performed by the young Israeli clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein. Along with his opera Der Freischütz, Weber’s works for clarinet have put him on the map of major minor composers. Written for the clarinet virtuoso Heinrich Joseph Baermann, Weber’s works for clarinet are spectacular examples of both feeling and technical display. Noted for his evenness of tone along the entire range of the instrument, Baermann could handle anything Weber could throw him. The two toured together in a symbiotic relationship that raised Weber’s stock as a composer and the clarinet’s as a virtuoso instrument.
Fiterstein did them both proud. A winner of numerous competitions, including the 2001 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, he played with exceptional sensitivity. Of course, the technical challenges are formidable, but one expects today’s soloists to whip those right off. It was Fiterstein’s ability to turn a lot of Weber’s noodling into real music that set him apart from the average clarinetist. Muti was masterful in keeping the orchestra muted – no pun intended – in order to allow the clarinet to shine. The only problem was the horns, who have a long gentle duet with the clarinet in the second movement and seemed to lack control at piano level.
Flanking the Weber Concerto were a warhorse and an unwarranted revival: Rossini’s Overture to Tancredi and Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 2, Op. 55. Rossini’s formulaic overture, whose formula Muti explained eloquently from the podium, was entertaining as always, and the orchestra did a fine job with it. Tancredi may be a serious opera, but the overture, true to form, isn’t.
The Saint-Saëns Symphony is another matter. Its obscurity is well deserved. Written when Saint-Saëns was 25, it is mostly made up of bad Mendelssohn and bad Schumann with a little Beethoven thrown in. It is a tedious academic exercise – the first movement hammers to death a broken minor seventh chord, which he turns into a fugue. Statistics, while not necessarily reliable, tell the story: there are currently four recordings of this work in print, while there are 47 of Symphony No.3. Why COT programmed it, is hard to guess; at least the performance was first-rate. It is always interesting to hear resurrected gems, but all compositions, like all souls, don’t necessarily deserve redemption.