Curtis Chamber Orchestra at Sunset Center – Mozart String Concertos

Mozart image 7-21-12

The Curtis Chamber Orchestra, composed of students from the world renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, completed its Carmel offering of Mozart’s String Concertos in Sunset Center on Saturday afternoon, January 14th, in an event hosted by the Monterey Symphony Orchestra. We were entertained by masterful performances of three conccrti, led by the soloists without need for a conductor, exhibiting a surprising variety of styles, given that these were all relatively early works by a single composer, in the same three-movement format.

In the Violin Concerto No.2 in D major, K.211, Mozart is reveling in his mastery of an existing style rather than breaking much new ground. The small orchestra of strings, supplemented by two oboes and two horns, played the opening ritornello with warmth and airiness, setting the stage for the imitative and inventive commentary provided by soloist Abigail Fayette, who displayed precision and projection, with a confident zip to the rising scales, and a relish for the cadenza, which ended with a notably graceful merging into the coda. The slow movement was movingly played, with a magical ppp section, and a perfect resolution. The brisk Rondo was delivered with dexterity and panache.

Although Mozart wrote his Concerto No.4, K.218 (in the same key of D major) only a few months later in 1775, he introduced into it a new lyricism, beautifully captured by soloist Brandon Garbot, with the sweetest of tones and an ability to convey whole phrases that transcended the individual notes. The oboes and horns, under-employed by Mozart in the previous work, now came into their own, with especially delicious sounds from the oboes. Again we heard a fine violin cadenza and coda, and a lovely slow movement, with an even more daringly hushed section – it floated to me as pppp! The closing Rondeau (give the French the credit?) alternated effectively between sections in 2/4 and 6/8 rhythms, coming to a delightful two-chord staccato ending.

After the intermission, we arrived at one of the earliest examples of Mozart reaching his full maturity, with his incomparable balance of masculine strength and feminine gentleness, in the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major, K.364, featuring faculty members Shmuel Ashkenasi (violin) and Roberto Díaz (viola) – Mr. Díaz is also the CEO of the Curtis Institute. The violin soloist might be expected to use the upper register to play the assertive male part, with the viola soloist humbly accepting the quieter role, but what we heard was a reversal in which Mr. Ashkenasi on violin was more like an elegant soprano singer, while Mr. Díaz was an unapologetic forthright baritone, extracting from the viola a torrent of vibrant sound.

In the amiable first movement, Mozart makes the most of the warmth and sturdiness that sound so good in the key of E flat, with the solo instruments playing sometimes separately, sometimes together. An emotional highlight came with a succession of rising trills of increasing intensity, but overall this movement was of the kind that you hope will roll on for ever. In this case, the consolation for its ending is that it is followed by a gorgeous slow movement. This begins in the dark relative minor key of C Minor – another advantage of beginning with E Flat as the tonic! The middle section was in the major, but the somber minor returns. After so much profundity, the Presto finale was just the right brief confection to bring the audience to its feet to applaud soloists and orchestra for the beauty and insight they brought us.

Since one of the purposes of the “Curtis on Tour” program is to give students a foretaste of the traveling life of the classical musician, we can look forward to the most successful of them returning to Carmel in years to come.

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