TROY – The toughest slot to fill when programming a concert is that first piece. It's the one that sets the standard for the rest of the show.
The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra performed at the Troy Music Hall Tuesday evening; sure enough, there was a Mozart Divertimento to kick things off.
Conductor Patrick Strub makes his American debut with the orchestra on this tour. He is a young man (40 is young in the classical world) who entered confidently and, with a little flourish, gave the downbeat to the 17-member ensemble of strings.
And they played that little Mozart piece with more joy and affection than I've ever heard in concert. It was perfect Mozart. Every phrase was a song without words.
The orchestra must have performed this piece a thousand times, but there wasn't a hint of the stale or effete in their playing.
It's deceptively difficult, requiring precision bowing and an interplay between first and second violins in the first movement that would be hard as an Andante, never mind the Allegro this group took at a spanking clip.
An Andante followed, with just a touch of Romantic lushness added to its Classical beauty without straying from the idiom. And the concluding Presto gave the concertmaster a workout with the jig- like moto perpetuo figure he played to the accompaniment of the rest.
Mozart's music always threatens to burst out laughing, so it's important to have fun with it. This is also characteristic of Mendelssohn's stuff, especially the string symphonies he wrote for his family while in his 'teens.
The String Symphony No. 10 is in B Minor, but there's no minor- key gloom about it. The orchestra used it open the second half of the concert and, like the performance of the Mozart divertimento, the music wasn't slighted in the least.
Shostakovich arranged his String Quartet No. 8 for chamber orchestra, opening it up to sound of a string choir. Which suits a work such as this that covers a base coat of despair with eccentric flecks of optimism.
The five uninterrupted movements run a rambunctious gamut from a meditative Largo through two contrasting fast movements (one angry, one puckish) into a concluding pair of Largos that finish in quiet gloom.
The performance was a stunning continuation of the high interpretive standard Strub set in the Mozart: the same Classical precision brought to bear on a work that is Neo-Classical underneath all the passion.
That also is true of Grieg's "Holberg" Suite, Op. 40, that concluded the concert, but in this case Grieg was called upon to pay tribute to a Norwegian playwright of the 18th century and did so by utilizing antique dance forms in the context of his own 19th-century voice.
But the five-movement work has not a hint of despair, and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra made the most of its merriment.
They encored with a Rondo by Mozart, and you had the feeling that, accomplished as they are, this put them solidly back on home turf.
– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 12 March 1987