Orion Ensemble offers familiar Beethoven, along with rarities, past and present

Tue Mar 17, 2015 at 10:43 am

By Tim Sawyier

The Orion Ensemble performed Wednesday night at the PianoForte Studio. Photo: Devon Cass
The Orion Ensemble performed Sunday night at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston. Photo: Devon Cass

The Orion Ensemble performed the third installment of their season Sunday night at Nichols Hall in Evanston. Entitled “Jubilation,” the concert made for an intimate evening of charming works both esoteric and familiar.

The program took its name from the first work, Chicago composer Stacy Garrop’s Jubilation for violin, cello and piano. Written in 2011 to commemorate WFMT’s 60th anniversary, Jubilation is crafted in a neo-Romantic vein that evoked the station’s spirit and mission. Opening with a tranquil violin solo artfully rendered by violinist Florentina Ramniceanu, it quickly segued into a driving, off-kilter dance section, written in the mixed meter of 9/8 + 8/8 + 7/8 in honor of WFMT’s 98.7 frequency. Here percussive rumbling from pianist Diana Schmück underpinned sustained lines and precision accents from the string players, all delivered with enviably tight ensemble. An aggressive tango closed the work in spirited fashion.

Next was the Serenade for clarinet, cello, and piano of Danish composer Emil Hartmann (1836-1898). The first movement, “Idyll,” began with a semplice clarinet solo, affectingly spun with the exquisite tone of Kathryne Pirtle, before shifting to a more open, pastoral setting. The central “Romance” began with a glowing cello melody from Judy Stone, which then segued into an intimate dialogue with Pirtle, both players sensitively attuned to the Schubertian affective ambiguity; a scherzando minor section featured sparkling playing from Schmück.

The closing “Rondo,” Eastern European in spirit, would have benefitted from more firmly inflected playing, but attained an appropriately vigorous enthusiasm in the final tumult toward the double bar.

The evening’s main fare was Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio in B-Flat. The work dates from the end of the composer’s middle or “Heroic” period, and the performance varied in the degree to which it lived up to this stylistic epoch. Schmück played the noble opening theme with fitting gravitas, but as the sprawling movement progressed sequences and subsidiary themes from all players lacked clear architecture and character. The extended section of piano trills accompanied by pizzicatti was gracefully light, but the tone of the movement as a whole erred on the genteel side until the very end, which was invested with energy that would have better benefited the entire endeavor. The second movement too, sounded perfunctory, the players maintaining a middle-of-the-road, all-purpose dynamic.

The three performers’ musicality sparked to life in the reflective, prayer-like third movement, sustaining admirable balance and a unified sound that generated an ensemble sheen throughout the spinning variations. The final movement shimmered with bouncy, effortless playing from the piano. String chords from Ramniceanu and Stone were full-bodied and resonant throughout, and the trio brought the night to an emphatic, indeed, jubilant conclusion.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the PianoForte Studios. orionensemble.org

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment