Review: Chamber Orchestra opens 50th season with zeal

02:14 PM, Oct 28, 2013

Cicely Parnas (Provided image)/


Written By Daniel J. Kushner

The Rochester Chamber Orchestra on Sunday afternoon opened its 50th season, still under the baton of its founder, David Fetler. “Haydn and the French Connection” was a quality concert that had both the familiar and obscure, although the connective tissue between the featured work by Haydn and those of the lesser-known composers was tenuous at best.

The concert began with a trumpet antiphon by Fetler called “Majestic Fanfare.” From there the entire ensemble commenced with a series of works by French composers of the Classical period, including Joseph Bologne, also known as Le Chevalier de Saint-George, and André Grétry.

As evidenced immediately in François-Joseph Gossec’s Sinfonia in G Major, the ensemble has a keen sense of proportion: The balance of sound was flawless, with a warm and rounded tone. The orchestra played “Presto” brilliantly, deftly handling the fleet passages.

Perhaps the most intriguing selections of the program were by composer Lucile Grétry, who was only 14 years old when she wrote the opera Le mariage d’Antonio, excerpts of which were presented here in an exceedingly rare performance. In addition to interpreting the “Overture,” the ensemble was joined by soprano Michaela Anthony for two ariettas from the opera, both sung by the character of Colette, who is in love with the Antonio from which the drama gets its name.

From the start of “Que ce chapeau, dont je pare ta tête,” Anthony’s tone was clear, with a subtle shimmer that suited the stately beauty of the music. Unfortunately, the soprano’s vocal attack was somewhat passive, as if there was not enough breath to support the luxurious timbre of her voice. That aside, the performance was a gift. When is one likely to hear such obscure and fascinating operatic excerpts by so precocious and mysterious a composer (who unfortunately died a few years later)?

The other teenage opera composer featured on the program was Mozart, whose “Overture for Lucio Silla” contained both rhythmic and melodic flashes of Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Here the orchestra played with a distinctive zest — more dynamic variance, more bounce in the phrasing — than the previous works on the bill. The same held true for Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major, which ended the concert in glorious fashion.

The featured soloist was 20-year-old cellist Cicely Parnas, currently a student at Cleveland Institute of Music. Parnas’ performance brimmed with musical sensitivity as she executed phrases with an effortless legato.

During the work’s second movement, “Adagio,” a couple of stray high notes further down the fingerboard seemed to get lost in the phrasing. That notwithstanding, Parnas’s dexterity was on full display in the “Allegro molto,” her stunning facility eliciting a richness of tone that was above scrutiny.

In this unequivocally first-rate performance, Parnas demonstrated herself to be a musician whose career will be worth following for years to come.