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It was good to catch up with the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle again. Our region's only fully-professional small orchestra has drawn good reviews from other CVNCers in recent months, and indeed the ensemble is in reasonably fine fettle. For its March 13 concert, Music Director and Conductor Lorenzo Muti planned a refreshingly different program of music by Milhaud, Villa-Lobos, and Respighi, but he ran afoul of the publisher of one of the works so the program consisted of the former's 1919 Cocteau ballet Le boeuf sur le toit, the latter's "Impressioni brasiliane," and two Haydn symphonies – "Le matin" and "Le soir." The personnel roster listed 44 players, making the COT a largish chamber orchestra by conventional standards. One of this ensemble's many delights – like the smaller Mallarmé Chamber Players – is its flexibility and its willingness to bring in fine players as needed. Innovative programming inevitably results, and this concert was no exception, even with the last-minute changes.
The concert began with Haydn's Symphony No. 6, in D, one of three often performed as a set. In "Le matin," the orchestra sounded truly wonderful, with crisp attacks and releases, outstanding ensemble, superbly realized dynamics – it was a class act in every respect. Haydn is hard – as hard as Mozart, in many respects – and conductors (and orchestras) who can do Haydn well are few and far between. This performance gave eloquent testimony to the current excellent state of the COT and served, too, as a tribute to Muti's long-term leadership.
Respighi's "Brazilian Impressions," a three-section score from 1928, is a strange animal, a sort of travelogue that depicts two perhaps expected images of Brazil and one downright peculiar "impression" of a poisonous-snake-breeding enterprise. There is, as Muti told his audience, some slithering in the snake-pit section, but there was also some sultry slithering in the other sections – "Tropical Night" and "Song and Dance." The composer was apparently impressed in a somewhat negative way by the serpents, and he quotes the Dies Irae in that section. The score, which dates from the same year as "Feste Romane," is typically colorful and brilliantly orchestrated, and it was extremely well played.
Following the intermission, Haydn's Symphony No. 8 was given. It wasn't as happy as the opening one, for it was plagued by some technical problems (including some less-than-professional-quality intonation and some mangled horn passages). One might speculate that the rehearsal time was mostly given over to the less-well-known Respighi and the concluding work, the colorful Milhaud ballet. The opener was so good we're hoping that the COT will repeat it and this one at some future date, adding the 7th Symphony – "Le midi" – to make a day of it, as it were, when it does so.
The COT redeemed itself in that riotous dance score, which is a parade of unending delights. The large ensemble tore into it with vigor and managed a superb realization of what may be Milhaud's most enduring and popular work.
Arriving patrons were greeted by a student string quartet playing Shostakovich in the lobby. Their presence was not credited in the program or in remarks from the stage. Muti did note the small crowd, commenting that there was a certain afternoon sporting event – Duke won – and that the National Symphony Orchestra was to play in the Triangle that evening.
The COT's season concludes on May 22 with a program of music by Rossini (the Overture to Ermione) and Weber's Clarinet Concerto, with guest artist Alexander Fiterstein.