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For its second concert of the season, the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle* drew a thoroughly presentable crowd to Durham's Carolina Theatre for a program that, on paper, looked a little peculiar, given the customary formula of overture-concerto-symphony. This one was turned upside-down to end with a concerto – and featured not one but two overtures – both by the same composer – in the opening round.
David Lindquist (in his 17th year of service as chair) greeted the crowd and announced the latest endowment (in honor of Harvey Gunter), following which long-term Music Director and Conductor Lorenzo Muti (in his 18th season) explained the programming conceit, which grouped music composed within a 17-year span by Haydn, Beethoven, and Rossini.
This chamber orchestra is one of the gems of our region, its ranks embracing some of our finest players. The horns got off to a somewhat rocky start, but for the balance of the program there was little about which even the curmudgeonliest critic could complain. Thus there follows a rave, coupled with an exhortation at the end (for those who wish to cut to the chase) to attend the next of these concerts.
The opening work was rare Rossini, the Overture to La cambiale di matrimonio. One might have wondered why, but Muti explained it was the first opera he conducted, so why not? Aside from those (at first) wayward horns, the piece emerged from the stage crisp, precise, intense, and incisively played, demonstrating that even at 18 (or whatever), young Rossini had what it took to make infectiously attractive music: chances are this thing created a sensation when first heard.
There followed Haydn's "Military" Symphony, played with astonishing verve and flair by this crack ensemble. This music sounds simple enough and easy too but it isn't, and in addition good Haydn conductors don't exactly grow on trees, so let's just say that Muti here demonstrated that he's among the elite subset of superior Haydn interpreters – what a performance!
Rossini No. 2 was the well-known Overture to La Scala di Seta, a classic by any standard that here was radiant, overall, its shaded dynamics wonderfully managed, and graced with the kind of unanimity in terms of attacks, releases, phrasing, and balance we've come to expect from the COT.
After intermission, Durham native Andrew Tyson emerged for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, the work that inspired the afternoon program's title, "The Pinnacle of Piano Concertos." One might dispute that, but for many of us it's one of the top two (of Beethoven's five, at least – the other being the second…).
It's been wonderful to see and hear Tyson come of age as an artist in our midst, here in the Triangle. He's hardly alone, for we "throw" fine musicians with the kind of profligacy with which they throw pots, down in the Jugtown area. (Lucky us.) Why, it was only yesterday, it seems, when Tyson was playing with the Duke String School orchestra or coming home from the Curtis to play at UNC…. (There are lots of reviews in CVNC; search on his last name.)
So this time it was Beethoven's 4th, and it was good. No, it was better than good. It was rock-solid, beautifully unified, often profound and insightful. He's too young to think in terms of this performance being a pinnacle (although perhaps the word may fit Maestro Muti). We can hope for lots more, downstream, in ever-increasing profundity. But it was plenty for now, and those who were there were richly rewarded all 'round by the guest artist and his colleagues in the COT.
One quibble: one might have wanted a shade more tension, a slightly brisker approach at the outset of the first movement and particularly in the second, wherein the piano part often seemed a little too dreamy when contrasted with the energetic orchestral work. (Yes, of course, that's the point, but here it struck this listener as a tad too much.)
That said, the crowd clapped and clapped, most audience members standing, some cheering. The performance merited all that.
Tyson's home for a spell, and he's getting little rest. Readers may hear him in recital on November 14 and in more Beethoven, with fellow Bull City artist Nicholas Kitchen, on November 16. Check 'em out! And be sure to catch the COT's next concerts – with the Concert Singers of Cary on November 15 and December 20 (in Apex) and in the Carolina Theatre again on January 18.
*Note that the COT's home page (somewhat confusingly) features next season's concert lineup– a boon for music lovers who plan ahead!