Trumpet guest lifts a mixed opener for Lakeview Orchestra

Wed Oct 09, 2019 at 1:08 pm

By Landon Hegedus

Tage Larsen performed Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with conductor Gregory Hughes leading the Lakeview Orchestra Tuesday night at the Athenaeum Theatre. Photo: Elliot Mandel

For a community ensemble not yet a decade old, the Lakeview Orchestra is no stranger to the kind of demanding repertoire most often heard in Chicago’s downtown halls. Last season alone, Lakeview tackled such exacting opuses as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Respighi’s Pines of Rome with a panache that well exceeds the standards of average volunteer orchestras.

Under the direction of founding artistic director Gregory Hughes, the plucky Lakeview Orchestra served up another ambitious program in their season opener at the Athenaeum Theatre on Tuesday evening. Yet while the group has excelled in venturesome repertoire in seasons past, Tuesday night’s results proved mixed. 

By all accounts, Hindemith’s early modernist masterpiece Mathis der Maler symphony seems a logical next step after a thorough exploration of other fin-de-siecle warhorses; in this case, however, the choice may have been just above the Lakeview musicians’ pay grade.

The effort began respectably enough, with Hughes and the Orchestra finding their groove in the lively first theme of the “Engelkonzert.” The gauzy, transparent string sound allowed generous room for woodwinds to flourish throughout the movement, and was particularly well-suited to the sepulchral opening motive of the “Grablegung.”

The ensemble lost its footing in the finale  however; stuttering entrances from the winds and prolonged pauses in the introduction made most of the opening feel halting and disconnected. Viola and cello playing midway through the movement was marred by inaccuracy and intonation issues, threatening to derail one of the piece’s most austere themes. The orchestra managed to recover through the end of the third movement, aided by robust contributions from the brass, and stick the landing with considerably greater confidence. 

Individual players emerged in performance amid such ensemble difficulties, affirming that the orchestra harbors no lack of talent. Well-crafted solos from principal oboe Ashley Ertz stood out in the program’s first half, as did contributions from trumpeter David Nakazono, who lent a polished sound to a fitfully overeager brass section. 

On the whole, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite went considerably better than the Hindemith, possibly on account of familiarity. Hughes’s reading of the popular 1919 version of the suite was sure-footed and vivid, if hardly revelatory. Tempos were well-suited to the group – sensibly chosen yet seldom sluggish, and largely conducted with clarity and confidence.

The interior movements of the suite proved the most effective. Alternately sumptuous and subtle, the string playing in the “Round of the Princesses helped redeem earlier snafus, and the whole ensemble proved their mettle in a bracing “Infernal Dance.” Victoria Long’s wry bassoon solos in the Berceuse floated atop a nicely restrained cushion of strings and harp.

After intermission, the Lakeview Orchestra continued their trend of inviting local artists as guests with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Tage Larsen as soloist in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. 

Larsen’s presence at the front of the stage was humble yet assured, and he performed this standard of the trumpet repertoire was purity and finesse. In the challenging first-movement cadenza, the occasional slipup could be forgiven in light of Larsen’s overall breezy delivery and sweet sound. 

Throughout the Haydn, Hughes’s gestures were precise and energetic, though never lacking in nuance. The pared-down ensemble of strings, woodwinds, and two trumpets provided supple, well-balanced accompaniment of their guest. 

Percy Grainger’s Molly on the Shore may have seemed like light fare amid works like the Hindemith and Stravinsky, yet the orchestra’s adroit delivery made a case for the jaunty tune and proved a welcome spot of levity to open the evening.

Josh Mather leads the Lakeview Orchestra in Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3, and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with soloist Joshua Brown at 7:30 p.m. December 3 at the Athenaeum Theatre.

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