The night began with Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Sinfonietta No. 1,” a work that the composer dedicated to the memory of Mozart. Although one probably cannot have enough Mozart, classical music during this illustrious year—and in the wake of the Mozart Society Orchestra’s (MSO) own tribute to Amadeus—has begun to seem as repetitive as carols around Christmastime, and the Brazilian’s tribute was a nice variation.
The uncommon choice was a delightful one, beginning with a beautiful, pulsating rhythm and finally ending with a fast, light, and high melody. While there were a hesitant few notes from the back and the orchestra was occasionally out-of-tune, the strong performance of the strings and the clearly excellent conducting of Chetel, who gave a large, relieved smile at the piece’s close, more than compensated.
The next selection, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra,” was dominated by the masterful performance of guest violin soloist Jae Young “Ariel” Jeong ’07, co-concertmaster of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO).
Perhaps such details are irrelevant, but her teal gown lent her a statuesque air—and her playing was even more divine. Backed by solid percussion and brass, Jeong carried the orchestra with her though the speedy first movement. Her impossibly high notes, darting arpeggios and dancing scales, juxtaposed to her still posture and closed eyes, mesmerized the audience until the standing ovation.
The orchestra delivered a solid performance in what was primarily a showcase for a violin player of great technical expertise—at times, the other players seemed superfluous and somewhat out-of-sync with Jeong.
One wonders if the choice of Mendelssohn was in the best interests of BachSoc, especially considering that the piece is not, beyond the first movement, strikingly melodic. There are composers whose concertos highlight both soloist and back-up—Rachmaninoff immediately comes to mind—but the selection of night seemed merely a grandstanding opportunity for Jeong to showcase her talents.
Still, BachSoc positively shone during its rendition of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40.”
The familiar melody moved audience and orchestra alike, reminding one why some pieces are memorable. As the program brochure noted, the symphony is both a popular cell phone ring tone, as well as a transcendent, evocative, and exuberant piece of music. The elegant opening notes brought out the best in virtually every instrument, and the performance remained steady throughout the piece and delivered a strong, fast finish.
BachSoc improved at the end of the night, ultimately inspired, no doubt, by the remarkable brilliance of Mozart. Rather than intimidate performers, the Austrian master seemed to inspire the orchestra, which delivered a passionate performance occasionally hindered, but never ruined, by a lack of technical expertise.