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In performance: Vienna Chamber Orchestra

Web-only review:

Entremont brings Vienna's charm to Strathmore
by Cecelia Porter

Think Vienna, think music. The Vienna Chamber Orchestra came to Strathmore on Sunday, bringing some of the glistening sound and music of that illustrious city to Bethesda. The group was established immediately after World War II as part of a musical resurgence amid an Austria in ruins. A distinguished pianist, the French conductor Philippe Entremont, now 75, led the musicians in Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony No. 35, K. 385; his Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466 (with Entremont as soloist), and Haydn's "London" Symphony, No. 104; this year marks the bicentennial of Haydn's death.
(read more after the jump)

Though written a few years apart, Mozart's 20th concerto and his opera "Don Giovanni" share an uncanny sense of sinister foreboding. The concerto's outer movements press onward with ominous restlessness, the Romanze awash in its own turbulent urgency. Entremont nailed Mozart's kaleidoscopic succession of moods, while underlining the engaging, even jovial, dialogue between piano and orchestra, and doing so with surprising delicacy.

In the Allegro of Mozart's K. 385, Entremont also managed to underscore the seeming incongruity of a military parade atmosphere spiked with brass and timpani, side by side with the scurrying buffoonery of the composer's comic opera style.

In Entremont's hands, each movement of the Haydn served up a distinct character. The opening declaimed, then yielded to whimsy. One couldn't miss the Andante's stinging dissonance, while the closing movements were sheer country dance music. A cheering audience won two gemütlich encores of Vienna's signature waltz: Johann Strauss Jr.'s "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" and Strauss Sr.'s "Radetsky March."

-- Cecelia Porter

By Anne Midgette  |  November 24, 2009; 6:09 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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The Haydn performance sounds defective. The finale of 104 should have a sweep and power that rival the finale of Mozart 41 (albeit with Haydn's concision and wit) and thus should be impossible to characterize only as "sheer country dance music."

Also, this is a technicality, but Strathmore is in North Bethesda, not Bethesda proper. (I remember when Strathmore was in Rockville, before the supposedly class-adding name change.)

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 24, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The Haydn 104 did sound a bit limp. I have a recording by the Royal Philharmonic under Beecham, but hesitated to note my response, thinking it might just be a CD vs. concert hall impression.

I was not enthusiastic about the encores, as well played as they were. Choosing two oompah oompah pieces seemed to be lazy at best, and playing down to the audience at worst.

All those moves across Montgomery County don't seem to have affected the stunning Strathmore concert hall interior, nor its impressive acoustics (although at some point the drums in the Radetzky march seemed to come from behind the orchestra?) In any case, it is a wonderful place to go and listen to a concert.

I don't know how accurate their PR is, but if any of it is true, Strathmore seems to be setting an example for how to promote classical music in the community, while easily coexisting with the blander stuff.

Posted by: gauthier310 | November 24, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I thought that Entremont's performance of the Mozart 20th concerto was superb. Unlike other conducting pianists I've seen, he faced the orchestra, with his back to the audience, so he could conduct with two hands -- when he was not playing. The cadenzas are by Beethoven, who saw into the work; Entremont played the concerto as though the Beethoven cadenzas belonged there, as they of course do. The audience liked this performance very much -- many stood to applaud, not in the mechanical way of audiences these days, but bounding up in groups. The Haffner and the Haydn No. 104 were very good performances; the orchestra is extremely able and disciplined. Orchestral encores are unusual and not really serious; these were a lot of fun.
This orchestra does something remarkable and, to me, very appealing. When the conductor's bows are over, and he has left the stage, and the orchestra is about to walk offstage, it simultaneously makes a single bow to the audience. I've never seen that before; it is as though the orchestra is saying, conductors come and go and we remain and make the music. As good as Entremont had been as conductor and soloist, this was an appropriate gesture, to which the audience gratefully responded. All orchestras -- if they are any good -- should do that.

Posted by: danjose | November 28, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

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