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It drew a somewhat smaller crowd to Stewart Theatre on November 17 than its big brother, the Raleigh Civic Symphony, did three days earlier, but the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra's all-Mozart program was, in many respects, every bit as remarkable. The RCCO is a 33-member ensemble with heavy hitters in some of its principal slots — Concertmaster Lin-Ti Wang, Principal II Violin Mark Furth, violist Kathryn Baerman, cellist David Oh, and bassist Josh Hines head the string sections, and there is comparable strength in the winds and brasses, too. Randolph Foy is the Music Director and Conductor. The program's title was "Mozartiana," so one might have expected the Tchaikovsky suite of that name, but instead the concert consisted entirely of music by Mozart, introduced by the Maestro (who also wrote the program notes) in a strikingly effective way — among other things, he spoke of the challenges we face in trying to understand events in the past, given the perspective we enjoy in the present. Thus the Mozart we know, played on "high-tech" instruments with metal strings and valves and such in modern halls of considerable capacity and given for people in street clothes who have bought tickets, may not be precisely what the composer experienced when these pieces were heard for the first time — and never mind the fact that the music is now considered "classical" but was brand-spanking new back then! Never mind, either, the fact that Mozart's music is stuff that separates sheep from goats in the music world. Overall, the playing was of very, very high quality, and the composer was exceedingly well served.
The program included representative samples of three of the many forms that consumed Mozart's interests. The opener was the saucy Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor, K.486, a Singspiel (we'd call it an opera with dialog, or perhaps a comic opera, in the parlance of the music theatre crowd). The tempos were brisk, and the playing was energetic and incisive.
Next up was Mozart's Symphony No. 35 in D, K.385, known as the "Haffner" Symphony. Mozart wrote many symphonies, and some of them have nicknames, like this and the last, No. 41, called the "Jupiter" Symphony. (For the record, No. 37 is by Michael Haydn, although Mozart did write its introduction....) The "Haffner" here involved pairs of winds, two trumpets, strings and timpani, and the "pulse" — provided by timpanist Candy Pahl — and Foy's pacing were consistently wonderful. The winds were especially good, the Andante was very lyrical, the Minuetto was lively and crisp, and the finale was truly bracing. Overall, this performance was outstanding, serving as yet another example of the great work being done by Foy with a healthy mix of young and seasoned players from the University and the community.
The grand finale was the Concerto No. 25, in C, K.503. Mozart wrote a slew of these things, too, mostly to play himself. There are cadenzas by Mozart for many of them, but not for this concerto, so the soloist, Vivian Cheng, performed somewhat Romantic ones by Robert Casadesus. She is one of our several young artists with considerable promise, and she's pursuing her studies with great seriousness. After working for some time here with John Ruggero, she decided to study with Arkady Aronov, at the Manhattan School of Music, where she goes three times a week, we understand — while continuing to live in the Triangle! This permits her to be involved in the NY scene and in NC, too, and the Raleigh audience certainly benefited from her presence on November 17, when she played for the third time with an orchestra of the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association. The Concerto was remarkable to hear, and she was remarkable to observe. Foy tended the accompaniment nicely, evoking strong support throughout and permitting the orchestra to sing out in the critical linking passages when the soloist was not playing. The performance was thoroughly integrated, lyrical and poetic, and it demonstrated the qualities of concurrent display and discourse that, as Foy noted, Mozart so ingeniously brought to the concerto form. There were bouquets aplenty at the end, so Cheng, who is all of 14 now, looked a bit like one of those Covent Garden flower girls as she left the stage.