Martin Fröst Steals the Show with an Eternally Hip Composer

United StatesUnited States Handel, Mozart, Fine: Martin Fröst (clarinet), Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York City. 7.12.2013 (DS)

Handel: Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 6, No. 2
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
Fine: Serious Song: A Lament for String Orchestra
Mozart: Symphony No. 29, in A major, K. 201

 Intimacy need not occur only in small places. The recent performance at Carnegie Hall by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, joined by the distinctive virtuoso clarinetist Martin Fröst, proved this statement true. From the moment the small, conductor-less group played the first note of Handel’s Concerto Grosso in F major with such welcoming gracefulness, it seemed the hall started to shrink in size. Their quietly robust playing brought the audience and stage closer together. As the ensemble practically whispered the hidden phrases to one another throughout the Handel, the mood was both fantastical and entrancing. Rather than seeming far up onstage, the group transformed itself and felt as if across the room in a salon. This was true ensemble balance combined with an incredibly detailed love of the piece.

Another success was Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A major—a pleasurable experience with any performer, but Martin Fröst made the experience personal and adventurous. His almost rock-and-roll stance of kneeling and swaying (placed at the center of the ensemble) turned the work into a kind of classical/pop marvel. Yet this Mozart favorite still showed its melodic genius and delicate smoothness. Fröst brought a fresh quirkiness, his fingers running across the clarinet like a stream of crystal mountain water. At times snake-charmer, at others jazzy soloist, his style and interpretation framed Mozart as an eternally hip composer.

The audience was offered the distinct pleasure of an encore before intermission. Via snippets of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and other well-known works, Fröst improvised his way into a lively klezmer dance, accompanied by the orchestra. This showed off even more of his clarinet technique, which he pulls off like a child blowing bubbles—fun, easy, and full of laughs.

The second half included a shift to the United States with tribute to Irving Fine (1914-1962), who would have turned 99 this month. With a distinct 1950s New England sound that could have scored a Doris Day movie, Serious Song: A Lament for String Orchestra was nevertheless a pleasant sidebar to the evening. To conclude, Orpheus returned to Mozart with the Symphony No. 29, playing with a solid narrative line—relaxed and enjoyable—even if it did not match the exceptional rendition of the opening Handel. Sadly, Carnegie was not selling a recording of the Concerto Grosso in their shop; it would have been a singular addition to any Christmas Wish List.

Daniele Sahr