Illinois Philharmonic winds most in synch with Mozart

Sun Jan 24, 2021 at 11:37 am

By John Y. Lawrence

Complementing their all-strings season-opener back in October, the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra has begun 2021 with an all-winds program. (The streaming pre-recorded concert is available through February 12).

The orchestra was recorded in their usual spacious home—Ozinga Chapel at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights. But the small scale of the program’s two pieces—for five and thirteen instruments respectively—fosters intimacy, fitting for a winter’s eve by the fire. And like a domestic hearth, this concert took a little time to heat up, but warmed the spirit once it did.

The first piece was Red Clay and Mississippi Delta by Valerie Coleman, the flutist of the Imani Winds. As Coleman writes in her own program notes, the piece is a classical scherzo written in the language of the blues.

The IPO’s principal wind players do their best Imani impression here, under the baton of music director Stilian Kirov. Their performance is technically sound, with particularly fluid work from clarinetist Trevor O’Riordan.

Yet while there is wit and lightness, the musicians don’t always seem comfortable in this populist idiom. Accents are timid where they should be punchy, and they are too shy about doing bluesy sliding between pitches, as they should. And although the rhythms aren’t stiff, compared to the Imani Winds’ own performance of this exuberant music the IPO musicians don’t really swing. 

Happily, Mozart’s colorful “Gran Partita” Serenade—found everyone more attuned to the idiom. Five out of the seven movements were splendid and well worth the price of admission.

Mozart’s requested dynamic contrasts were too underplayed in the first movement. The first minuet had pleasingly piquant articulation in the second trio, but was otherwise too slack.

After that, everything goes swimmingly. Supple solo work by oboist Naomi Bensdorf Frisch and clarinetist O’Riordan weaves throughout a lovely Adagio. The boisterous second minuet offered the best moments of the concert. Dynamic contrasts are delectably pointed and the second trio goes with the lilt of a Viennese waltz and an extra dollop of quasi-Straussian rubato. 

The variation movement is suitably characterful. In the slow variation, Kirov conjured delicate clouds of clarinet and basset horn figuration to support Frisch’s tender solo.

The concert’s weakest link isn’t musical but technical with the videography. (The production is by Waveform Media, but there is no credited director.) There are plentiful camera perspectives to cycle through, but the editing is dreadful. The angle that shows the clarinetists’ faces and hands appears often, but never during the three clarinet cadenzas in the Romanze movement of the Mozart. The camera is not trained on the oboists during some of their meatier solos, but is during multiple moments when they’re not even playing.

The concert is available through February 12 on the Illinois Philharmonic’s website:

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Comment