Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s October 15th season opening celebration featured much undifferentiated playing. The program was intelligently designed to showcase the New York premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s Duo Concerto, written for a married duo, cellist Jan Vogler and violinist Mira Wang. It is difficult to assess their undoubtedly noble efforts past an orchestration thicker than caulk. Mr. Vogler played on a large podium stage center, but this did not aid to his projection as it did to the visibility of his physical gesticulations and the serious commitment of his hair to the performance.
The comely Ms. Wang managed more audibly to struggle through the contrapuntal tonalische miasmas, written in a harmonic language by the preëminent post-modernist German composer that could be simplistically called valedictory, like the late works of Alban Berg. This uninspired work punishingly asked the soloists to compete against colorless clotted textures; indeed, a concert companion aptly described it as “morose hysteria”.
Perhaps this work would be better scored as a string septet.
Possible it is that the Rihm taxed the group’s energies to explain a lackluster Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, marked by some unprofessional wind intonation and the ensemble not quite exact enough. The general mezzo-forte dynamic was relieved in the pesante sections, yet braying more like an express subway than a pastoral donkey ride.
The vigor was so joyless the cellphone contribution at this unquiet end might not have been misplaced. Clarinetist Alan Kay’s offerings were outstanding and the horns were quite good, though loud.
To another concert companion’s prescient observation “Where is the conductor?” perhaps there should have been one for Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. This was not an ideal selection for a rudderless orchestra despite the endearingly vivid, possibly over-the-top leadership of concertmaster Todd Phillips, who commanded the most shapely playing from the strings this evening. Nevertheless, a lack of cohesion, phrasing, structure and balance made this rendition generic and long. The tepid tempo chosen for the Scherzo did not exploit the virtuosity our New York musicians are capable of. The Adagio suffered as directionless, unfleshed, without mystery nor delight. The last movement, if Allegro, was hardly vivace.
Their next Carnegie concert is December 5th with Augustin Hadelich. Surely this treasured ensemble will deliver a more engaging show.