The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Friday concert featured a lot of baroque, somewhat classical and contemporary music influenced by Chinese folk traditions. It was a program filled with embellishments, a little desire, bravado, with maybe a little bit of tension halfway through.
The morning concert kicked off with a performance of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Overture-Suite, “The Nations,” which, as the title suggests, depicts snapshots from different countries including Turkey, Portugal, Russia and others, and in doing so stages scenes with the composer’s use of rhythm and melody. Accompanied by a chipper harpsichord, the piece went from the Overture to two lovely French “minuets” before going to other “nations”. A highlight was the movement “Les Suisses”, complete with tambourine, where the melody of the strings flew above the sustained rhythm of the harpsichord. “The Muscovites” was another crowd pleaser, with its quick pieces and baroque adornments.
Next to the program, Cassie Pilgrim performed a recent SPCO commission, “Elegy for Solo Oboe”, by Chen Yi. Chen wrote the piece for Pilgrim, who shares his southern Chinese heritage, and included influences from Cantonese folk music in the work. In her program note, Chen explained that she relies on folk tunes written in Yifan mode, a musical scale that has a sad quality. “Elegy” had a sense of loneliness, with sometimes wandering notes as if it let out a cry that dissipated in the air.
Pilgrim performed the work with constant calm, the only clue of his effort revealed by rapid breaths.
In the next piece, Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B flat (arranged by Friedrich Grützmacher), soloist Richard Belcher seemed to have a little more trouble.
The classical era piece is learned by many advanced cello students, in part because of the enormous scale it requires, spanning four octaves. It was not a common type of piece at the time, when cellos weren’t often featured as solo instruments. If you didn’t look, you might even suspect that a violin was being played, because so many notes were so high, and also because this type of classical-era virtuoso music is more often played by the violin, the flute. , or another more common solo instrument. When played in the chevrons, the high notes of the cello did not have the sonority that those same notes would achieve with a smaller instrument, without benefiting from the bass and deep tones of the cello.
The version of Boccherini’s concerto performed by SPCO had considerable marks made by Friedrich Grützmacher, who replaced the original slow movement with an Andante grazioso from another work, and added a number of cadenzas, according to the program notes. The many fast notes, played quickly, seemed laborious. Really, this first move is meant to be light and airy, like a hummingbird, and this interpretation did not accomplish that. The second and third movements went better.
Principal violin Steven Copes gave Belcher a hug at the end of the piece, and the audience showed their appreciation by giving him a standing ovation, perhaps as a thank you for undertaking something so difficult to perform.
The concert ended with another concerto, this time by Antonio Vivaldi. Violinist Daria Adams was the center of the piece, which also featured two oboes, a bassoon and two horns in the melody.
The orchestra synchronized seamlessly for the upbeat piece of music. They seemed to enjoy making music together, and the audience, in turn, was enjoying themselves as well. There were even screams and screams from the crowd, even though it was just after noon.
- Who: The Saint-Paul Chamber Orchestra
- What: “Beethoven, Foley and Montgomery”
- When: October 22-23
- Or: Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
- Tickets: $ 50 to $ 12; thespco.org
- Capsule: Next, SPCO players Kyu-Young Kim and Zachary Cohen play an R&B-inspired duo for violin and bass; Jessie Montgomery’s “Shift, Change, Turn”, an SPCO co-commission, gets its Midwestern premiere; and the orchestra performs Beethoven.