The Asheville Chamber Orchestra conducted by Bertil van Boer performed a Sunday afternoon program completely comprised of works from the classical era. Performing to a near-capacity audience at St. Matthias Episcopal Church, the 27-piece ensemble played an overture by Johann Christian Bach, an early symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with guest soloist Kevin Ayesh of Hendersonville.
The youngest son of J.S. Bach, Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) was often referred to as “the London Bach” due to his long residency there. He was an important figure in the development of the classical style, and his Overture in B-flat shows excellent use of brass and woodwinds, but in structures that go beyond his father’s Brandenburg Concertos into new avenues. It is no wonder that musicologists consider J.C. Bach a strong influence on Mozart’s concerto style. For my taste, a faster tempo would have made this pleasing work even stronger.
Towards the middle of J.C. Bach’s career, the child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart burst upon the musical scene. Symphony No. 8 in D major was written when Mozart was twelve years old and shows his growing maturity as a composer. The four movements are conventionally classical choices (Allegro, Andante, Menuetto and Allegro) and display conventional forms. But the precocious young composer stretches his technique beyond the “string symphony” sound of his earlier works. He introduces more orchestral color, uses trumpets and timpani, and provides dramatic rests for effect. The performance was by the book, except that the final Allegro was much too slow. It needs to be light and flying.
By the end of his life, Mozart had produced orchestral works that are the final word in the classical style. The next generation built on Haydn and Mozart, but moved into what can be called the “Classical Romantic” period. Among the primary innovators of that time was Ludwig van Beethoven. Both Mozart and Beethoven used C minor as the key signature of some of their most significant works, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor is no exception to this generalization. Originally composed in 1800 but tinkered with until the first performance in 1803 (with the composer as soloist), it shows stylistic influences from two works that were then in early sketches: the great “Eroica” Symphony No. 3 and the opera Fidelio.
Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto is a fine work that should be performed more often. On this occasion, it was blessed by the fine solo work of pianist Kevin Ayesh, who is on the music faculty of Blue Ridge Community College. There were occasional disconnects between Ayesh’s intentions as a soloist and van Boer’s beat. On several occasions, Ayesh made graceful accommodations in order to retain unity in the performance. During one mostly orchestral passage in the Rondo, the woodwinds and the brass adopted different concepts of where they were in the score, but the confusion was resolved when the cellos entered with a deliberate emphatic statement of what measure they were on. Professionals do make errors, but good professionals manage to correct their errors without most of the audience realizing that they almost witnessed the proverbial “train wreck.”
The strings are to be commended for their fine intonation throughout the program. When numbers are small in each section, intonation is very important.