Orion Ensemble closes season with characteristic musical mix

Tue May 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm

By Gerald Fisher

The Orion Ensemble performed music of Mahler, Bolcom and Dvorak Sunday afternoon in Evanston

The Orion Ensemble’s season-closing program  presented a characteristic mix of the familiar and the unusual in fine performances before a small but rapt audience Sunday at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

Mahler’s only surviving scrap of chamber music, the single movement of his 1876 Piano Quartet in A minor, got a fluent and dramatic treatment, with a proper attention to its dark sonorities and emotional intensity. The student work was not publically performed until 1964 and sounds nothing like the mature composer, but has a neurotic edge that made it a natural, if anachronistic, choice for inclusion in Martin Scorsese’s psychological puzzler Shutter Island.

The main theme recalls the dark side of Schumann or Brahms and the ten-minute development ramps up the drama and agitation until the end which consists of two quietly enigmatic chords for the piano.  Mahler once wrote that the key of A minor symbolized for him the “unconscious anticipation of things to come.” While it is perhaps reading too much into a minor fragment, there is a tragic bleakness in the piece that prefigures the sonic landscapes he was to later create.

William Bolcolm’s good-humored Little Suite of Four Dances for E-flat clarinet and piano was a refreshing follow-up and Kathryne Pirtle negotiated the demanding trifles with style and elan, exploring the fascinating sonorities of the smallest member of the clarinet family.

The short first half of the program concluded with Air and Simple Gifts by John Williams, and if nothing else the piece gave an opportunity for the Orion members to shine in the resonant but clear acoustic of the Music Institute’s auditorium.

Dvorak’s Quintet Op. 81 for Piano and Strings, was the main course of the afternoon recital. The Czech comsoer’s masterpiece received a solid and penetrating performance, with  concentration throughout its forty-minute duration. To single out the cello of Judy Stone and the viola of guest artist Baird Dodge is not to ignore the quality of the ensemble and the contributions of the other artists, which were at a high level throughout.

The Orion Ensemble program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. May 18 at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall. orionensemble.org;

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