Sunday, May 14, 2017

Orquesta de Cámera Reina Sofía

Last night I attended a concert of the Reina Sofía chamber orchestra in the Auditorio Nacional de Música. This facility contains a large symphony hall and a smaller chamber hall where last night's concert took place. Here is a photo:

I tried to get a shot of the performers, but they came out too blurry. There were five first violins, five seconds, five violas, four cellos and two double basses. The first half of the concert, one of Mozart's "Salzburg" symphonies, Kv. 136, and the Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg, was for strings alone. In the second half, the Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, Kv. 550, they were joined by a wind section consisting of two clarinets, one flute, two bassoons, two oboes and two French horns. Most unusually, at least I have never seen it before, not only did all the strings (other than the cellos) stand, but so did all the wind players, even the bassoonists and horn players. You will notice there are only four chairs on stage for an orchestra of thirty players. What about the conductor, you ask? There was no conductor, the orchestra was directed by the concert master (termed "director concertino" in the program) who was Nicolás Chumachenco.

Maestro Chumachenco was a student of Jascha Heifetz at the University of Southern California, but he was born in Poland to Russian parents who emigrated to Argentina, where he grew up. He also studied at Curtis in Philadelphia. He has had a varied career as soloist and professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg. He is the music director of the Reina Sofía chamber orchestra.

The hall, by the way, is a well-designed facility and I thought the acoustics and sight-lines were excellent. It was about two-thirds full for this performance.

I have known and loved the three divertimenti with the Köchel numbers 136 - 138 for many years. The andante to the last one, in F major, is perhaps my very favorite Mozart slow movement:

The three divertimenti, written in Salzburg by a sixteen-year-old Mozart are sometimes called the Salzburg symphonies because they are in the three-movement form he used for many of his earlier symphonies and are well-suited to a chamber orchestra. They are mature works, far from juvenilia! The Holberg Suite is popular with chamber orchestras and audiences and I have heard it a few times in concert. But the real reason I was there was to hear the Mozart 40th, one of my favorite pieces and one of the great symphonies.

This is a pretty good chamber orchestra. They had some very fine moments, particularly in development sections where a real surging passion was evident. Other places a basic untidiness was evident. They sound very fine and there were no tuning issues, but a general rhythmic sogginess was the rule. Phrases I would have liked to have heard more articulated or shaped with more distinctiveness were pretty common. But again, they won me over in the dynamic development sections and in the slow movements in general. Fast movements always seemed a bit sloppy.

Now, I have to ask myself, is it that I am prejudiced against orchestras playing without a conductor? I hope not. I think I have heard some fine performances from them. But in this case, I felt that the ensemble needed more of a controlling intelligence, someone who might unify the interpretation and focus the ensemble a bit more.

The audience were interesting. In recent years I have become used to the audiences in small town San Miguel, eager and enthusiastic no matter what happened onstage and perpetually harangued before every performance and at intermission by the hectoring president of the association to become patrons and donate money. That's a bit unfair of me, I know, because it is his fundraising that keeps the organization in the black without any government funding. But it does tend to ruin every concert for me. The summer festival concerts, run by a different organization, are also ruined by the ubiquitous and entirely redundant speeches before every concert. This nasty practice is further exacerbated by the requirement of every ensemble and performer that they talk to the audience beforehand, telling them juicy little anecdotes about the music. This, no doubt intended to endear the performances to the audience, I find reprehensible.

Thankfully, none of that took place here. There was no speechifying nor lecturing from the stage. The performers came out and performed. Afterwards they bowed. And that was it.

I would give the performers a good B+, but the audience gets an A. They were sober and attentive and at the end the did not all leap to their feet, either to rush to the exits or to render a standing ovation. There was no standing ovation. The performers got a good few minutes of applause and then everyone went home. Entirely suitable. These people go to a lot of concerts.

Let's hear the Mozart Symphony No. 40 for our envoi today. This is Trevor Pinnock conducting The English Concert:

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