In his biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the 20th-century musicologist Alfred Einstein came right to the point on the Mozart wind concertos: “All these concertos have something special and personal about them, and when one hears them in a concert hall, which is seldom enough, one has the feeling that the windows have suddenly been opened and a breath of fresh air let in.”
That’s exactly what audiences received at Sunday’s Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert at the Bijou Theatre, thanks to a particularly exhilarating performance by principal oboe Claire Chenette of Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major. Chenette delivered a refreshing interpretation of this supremely challenging work, full of charming nuance and chirruped details that magnetically held the listener’s attention. Chenette, known for an oboe sound that is open and luminous, gently sculpted musical phrases and seized moments of humor and drama; she also displayed, on occasion, a spine-tingling focus and timbre.
KSO resident conductor James Fellenbaum and the orchestra gave Chenette all the room and support she needed. Even the slow movement, a lyrical Adagio non troppo, was imparted a cautious energy. The Rondo finale movement returns to characteristic briskness, this time with virtuosic details that lead up to a rewarding and upbeat finale.
The Mozart was perhaps the perfect work to separate the two opening and closing strings-only pieces: Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48. Each exists in its own musical space; each one needs its distance.
Fellenbaum and the orchestra gave the Tchaikovsky the richness and solidity it deserves with a careful running dynamic balance between the string sections. Fellenbaum also found the perfect textural balance between sections that allows the different string colors to ebb and flow, all the while maintaining cohesion as an ensemble. The famous elegiac third movement was beautifully rendered, setting up substantial energy in the emphatic and luscious Finale movement.
Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, though, is different. The Suite No. 3, composed in 1932, defies its 20th-century origin and echoes 16th-century lute and guitar pieces by Santino Garsi da Parma, Jean-Baptiste Besard, Ludovico Roncalli, and some anonymous composers. The result is the flavor of Renaissance string pieces filtered through a modern ensemble of bowed and pizzicato strings, displaying both fluidity and texture.
The KSO’s performance here was charming, clean, and soothing. And, in the name of programmatic diversity, they were right to keep this work as far away from the seething 19th-century romanticism of Tchaikovsky as possible. However, it is precisely that kind of programming voltage that makes for entertaining Sunday afternoons.
The KSO Chamber Orchestra heads just a bit further west this week, joining the choirs of Church Street United Methodist for a Lenten concert on Thursday, March 6, at 7:30 p.m. The free concert will feature the choir and KSO in a performance of the Requiem by the 20th-century French composer Maurice Duruflé. The baritone soloist will be Daniel Webb; the conductor will be Joe Miller.
The concert will also offer Antonio Vivaldi’s Laudate Pueri with soprano Jami Rogers Anderson.
On Friday, the year-old Scruffy City Orchestra, a volunteer ensemble of area players, will offer Around the World in Eight Pieces, a musical journey of selections from Korea and India and Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave and Rodriguez’s La cumparsita. The concert will be held at First Baptist Church (510 W. Main St.) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.
Alan Sherrod has been writing about Knoxville’s vibrant classical music scene since 2007. In 2010, he won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts—the Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera—under the auspices of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also operates his own blogs, Classical Journal and Arts Knoxville.
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