Bassoonist’s dream farewell – Mozart’s K.297b – with a dream orchestra, conductor and soloists at Ambassador Auditorium

United StatesUnited States Various: Claire Brazeau (oboe), Joshua Ranz (clarinet), Kenneth Munday (bassoon), Michael Thornton (horn), Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra / Jaime Martín (conductor). Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena, 29.1.2022. (LV)

Background, Jaime Martin and LACO (© Timothy Norris) honor Kenneth Munday (insert)


Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds in E-flat major, K. 297b

StraussLe bourgeois gentilhomme, Op.60

On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) returned to Ambassador Auditorium for the first time on a regular orchestral series since 1995. The concert saluted principal bassoonist Ken Munday – retiring 47 years after Sir Neville Marriner appointed him – and a loyal audience, many of whom were venturing into the live concert world for the first time in months, perhaps years.

The program was an audiophile’s dream: Jessie Montgomery’s Strum to get the strings warmed up and the adrenalin flowing, followed by Mozart’s magnificent Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn, which is so rarely heard live but essential for an understanding of what Mozart’s magic is all about. And then Richard Strauss’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme, a tour de force that only an orchestra of soloists can play.

Jaime Martin conducts four soloists and the LACO in Mozart (c) Brian Feinzimer

The Mozart was outstanding. The speeds were just right, and the soloists were magnificent, from the soaring eloquence of Michael Thornton’s golden horn to the gurgling virtuosity of Joshua Ranz’s clarinet. Oboist Claire Brazeau gave a wonderfully varied reading of her immensely challenging part, spun out lovely chaste lines in the Adagio and even, in some brief moments, suggested what would come in the Oboe Quartet K.370. She added a few little curlicues here and there, to which Ranz responded now and then, but otherwise they played it straight. As to the man of the hour, if Mozart had known there would be a bassoonist like Ken Munday, he would certainly have given him more riffs. No matter. As he has always done, Munday sang the few he was given like the troubadour he is, dead in-tune and ardently lyrical. His work in the instrument’s nether regions was like velvet wood, and his runs into the stratosphere with Thornton were the stuff dreams are made of.

Jaime Martín and the orchestra did their part, exquisitely phrasing the opening and setting up the big tune beautifully, the strings immaculate and passionate, the winds with their seductive nuance and color reminding us of why they are the heart of Mozart’s symphonic and operatic music. Martín, appointed Principal Conductor in 2019 with the appointment extended to 2027, kept the orchestra going through all the glorious noise and set the perfect tempo for an intoxicating Mozartian stroll through the Andante con variazioni.

He set a good scurrying tempo for the Overture that opens the Strauss, and the sparkling playing kept the audience engaged. The violins were creamy and precise, the trumpet and trombone nailed their big solos, the flute duet was almost indecently mellifluous, the concertmaster bravely scaled the dizzying heights of her fiendishly difficult solo, a gorgeous cello solo was echoed by a cello duet, and the acting principal violist gave as good as she got in Strauss’s marvelous mélange.

Freed from bondage to LACO, Munday will play Marin Marais, Frescobaldi and other Renaissance and Baroque music privately, with friends, all of whom are legends. Playing from original manuscripts, he has become fascinated by the challenges of writing down sound. ‘It’s incredible to learn this repertoire this way’, he told me. Munday also paid a rare compliment to Martín: ‘He is fantastic. He’s played with lots of conductors and knows a lot about the music inside and out. He breathes with you as if he were playing the flute’.

LACO and a new bassoonist will return to Ambassador on 14 May with works by Brahms and Beethoven and a commissioned piece by Ellen Reid, the Pulitzer Prize-winner, created to encourage calm reflection and introspection and designed to be fully experiential even while following social-distancing guidelines. As the leading edge of LACO’s planned digital initiative, each piece on the program will be available for free online viewing later this spring.

Laurence Vittes

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