Review: SPCO celebrates 60 with warm winds and a Beethoven jam

Happy 60th birthday, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra! You don’t sound a day under 200.

Yes, Nov. 18 marks the 60th anniversary of the orchestra’s first concert, which took place at St. Paul’s Central High School. So you could say that the eight-concert, six-venue tour of the Twin Cities that runs through Nov. 17 is something like a movable birthday party. And much of it sounds like party music from the late 1700s, the kind that Mozart wrote for aristocratic meet-and-greets, inspiring Italy’s Gaetano Donizetti to follow suit with similar sounds a few decades later.

The first stop on this tour was Minneapolis’ Temple Israel, a venue at which the SPCO has been performing for 40 of its 60 years. On Thursday evening, the orchestra split itself in two, with winds showcased on the concert’s first half, strings the second. Sweetly singing beside the strings was the orchestra’s principal flutist, Julia Bogorad-Kogan, who made Mozart’s Andante in C feel like a magic carpet ride. Not until the finale of the concert’s last work – a string orchestra arrangement of a Beethoven string quartet – was there anything approaching intensity on this program.

No, this was mostly an evening of light entertainment, exceptionally well played but eschewing gravitas. And it might be exactly what you need if the world’s been weighing you down lately.

After all, who could stay grumpy after a bright, breezy curtain raiser like Gaetano Donizetti’s G Minor Sinfonia for Winds? In the hands of nine SPCO wind players, it sounded like the overture to one of the farcical Italian operas Donizetti would later write. This Sinfonia was light and delightful, oboist Cassie Pilgrim setting the tone with a lithe dance near the start.

A flute was subtracted from the group for Mozart’s Serenade No. 11 for Wind Octet, which featured mellifluous solos from clarinetist Sang Yoon Kim and bold, big-shouldered ones from the orchestra’s principal French horn player, James Ferree. While neither of the two minuets was particularly buoyant, it was a fine interpretation of a not terribly consequential slice of Mozart.

More intriguing was the composer’s Andante in C for Flute and Orchestra, which sounds very much like the slow movement of a flute concerto (which music historians suspect it was intended to be), complete with cadenza. It has one up on the Serenade in that it has a pretty earworm of a melody, and Bogorad-Kogan’s solos sang out like a lilting love song.

The most adventurous music on the program came at evening’s end, when 18 string players took Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” String Quartet No. 3 and expanded it outward. Basically, the SPCO musicians took the original four parts and had a sort of jam session on them, figuring out together who should jump in or lay out where, enhancing certain passages while making others more intimate.

This group effort is a quite inventive way of adapting a work. Deeply involving were the periods of eeriness and unrest in the first two movements, while the finale was the first real adrenalin rush of the evening, a conflagration of fiery fugues. The full-tilt energy made me feel as if this birthday party was just hitting its stride when it came time to head home.

 

If You Go

Who: The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with flutist Julia Bogorad-Kogan

What: Works by Gaetano Donizetti, Mozart and Beethoven

When and where: 11 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday, Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley; 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 15, Wooddale Church, 6630 Shady Oak Road, Eden Prairie; 8 p.m. Nov. 16, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, 900 Summit Ave., St. Paul; 2 p.m. Nov. 17, Benson Great Hall, Bethel University, 3900 Bethel Drive, Arden Hills

Tickets: $50-$11 (students and children free), available at 651-291-1144 or thespco.org

Capsule: A set of light and breezy works for winds gives way to some fiery Beethoven.


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