An Australian Brings Polish and Emotional Heft—Plus an Arnold Rarity

17/11/2016

Gluck, Mozart, Respighi, Arnold: Ricardo Morales (clarinet), Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia / Kynan Johns (conductor), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 7.11.2016. (BJ)

Gluck – Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice
Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622
Respighi – Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No.3
Arnold – Symphony for Strings, Op.13

Another wide-ranging Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia program brought performances of considerable polish and emotional heft under the direction of Australian Kynan Johns (age undivulged in what passes for his web biography). What was especially impressive was the richly colored and vibrant tone he drew from the orchestra’s strings, who played at their absolute best.

The richness of tone by no means resulted in an unstylish rendering of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, which, in common with much of the rest of the program, benefitted from a dynamic range featuring pianissimos that kept the listener’s attention irresistibly concentrated. In the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Ricardo Morales and the conductor offered a strongly integrated conception, and here again the middle section of the slow movement achieved an intense quietude that was deeply moving.

The second half of the concert offered two works of sharply contrasted character. Respighi is a sadly underrated composer, a master both of the blockbuster style—in the three grandiose Roman symphonic poems—and of more intimate expression, as in some charming vocal and chamber music and his three sets of arrangements of Renaissance dances. It was a pleasure to hear this neatly turned performance of the third of those suites, and it served as an excellent foil to the work that ended the evening.

Malcolm Arnold’s reputation rests largely on his theater and film music, and, in the concert hall, on works that tend toward the lighter dance-infused modes of expression, but his Symphony for Strings breathes an altogether darker atmosphere, and marshals its inward-turned inspirations with impressive and altogether characteristic skill. Among the many composers who deserve to be better known than they are, Arnold stands high, and Johns and the Chamber Orchestra served his cause with aplomb.

Bernard Jacobson

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