Met Orchestra Chamber Ensemble brings panache to Central European works

Wed Jan 26, 2022 at 11:06 am
By Arlo McKinnon
The Met Orchestra Chamber Ensemble performed Leoš Janáček’s Mládí Monday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Evan Zimmerman

The Met Orchestra Chamber Ensemble presented a colorful program of Central European music Monday night at Carnegie Hall.

The program in the Weill Recital Hall opened with the Sextet from Richard Strauss’ final opera, Capriccio (1941).  In the opera, this music serves as a prologue to the ensuing drama, performed by the first-desk strings with the curtain down. Violinists Caterina Szepes and Julia Choi, violists Shmuel Katz and Mary Hammann, and cellists Rafael and Dorothea Figueroa captured the nostalgic mood through the complex intertwining lines. The players successfully brought out the Sextet’s sentimentality without lapsing into schmaltz, managing the music with grace.

In contrast, six woodwinds were to the fore in Mládí (Youth) by Leoš Janáček. Written in 1924, Mládí is a generally cheerful look back on the composer’s early years, cast in four contrasting movements.  As always, Janáček’s music features spicy colorations and pungent harmonies, along with folklike rhythms. Here Mládí sprang to life with vitality in the playing of flutist Chelsea Knox, oboist Nathan Hughes, clarinetist Anton Rist, bass clarinetist Dean LeBlanc, bassoonist Evan Epifanio and hornist Javier Gándara. The internal ensemble was tight and unified, and the sound balance, always tricky for winds and brass iin Weill Recital Hall, was blended perfectly.

Vaclav Nelhybel’s Trio for Brass was performed by trumpeter Raymond Riccomini, hornist Anne Scharer and trombonist John Romero. The Trio was full of life in its many contrasting moods, and the three musicians played like one instrument. The only small drawback is that the players paused too long between the subsections, thus diminishing a sense of the movement as a unified suite.

After intermission, the ensemble jumped back two centuries to present a rousing performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1.  Performing without a conductor, the ensemble was led by violin soloist David Chan, who also gave a fine rendition of the piccolo violin solo. Of particular note was oboist Hughes, whose solo playing in the Adagio was hauntingly lyrical.  Hughes again created a gorgeous moment in the finale, with oboist Pedro Díaz and bassoonist Daniel Shelly, perfectly conveying the mood of this glorious, introspective music.  

Hornists Brad Gemeinhardt and Barbara Jöstlein Currie played with dash and virtuosity. Their horn calls in the opening Allegro movement were warm and inviting, setting a fine mood for the entire concerto.  However, the playing of the second trio of the fourth movement was performed at a tempo that was a bit rushed.  While this demonstrated the great skill of these two players, it didn’t allow the majestic beauty of that music to shine forth as brightly as it could have.

As always, the MET Orchestra Chamber Ensemble offered a delightful evening of wonderful and diverse music.  One looks forward eagerly to the remaining three concerts in this season’s series. 

The Met Orchestra Chamber Ensemble returns to Carnegie Hall on February 1 and 7, and again on June 8.

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