The greatness of concertos fuels much debate. For pianos, is Beethoven’s “Emperor” the one? Or perhaps his Fourth? Mozart 27? Rachmaninov 2?
For violins, is it Beethoven (again)? Sibelius? Tchaikovsky? Prokofiev 2?
But for cellos, there can be no argument.
The Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra performed his great B minor concerto under the baton of music director John Yankee Sunday afternoon at the John Wesley United Methodist Church, with estimable soloist Emmanuel Feldman. It was part of yet another ambitious program by the ensemble, which also included von Weber’s Oberon overture, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 34.
Each of the three substantial works had great interest, but any program with Dvorak’s concerto stands out. The composer not only engages the soloist in a virtuosic display, but challenges the entire ensemble with intricate accompaniment and intense part-writing.
Like any performance, some playing could have been better. But the combination of an engaged soloist and the intense score brought many rewards.
The work opens quietly—the soloist sits and listens for quite some time—with both first-movement themes introduced by the orchestra: the first by clarinets (led by principal Cathy DiPasqua-Egan), the second by French horn (played nicely by principal Kari Fietek). When the soloist jumps in, the themes get repeated, modulated, and restated with multiple flourishes.
Double stops, left-hand pizzicato and octave leaps for the soloist characterize the entire work, and they are on full display in the opening movement. The long introspective Adagio that follows breathes some quiet into the piece. It closes with a cadenza-like passage, the soloist echoed by flutes (led by principal Mary Sholkovitz).
The finale has multiple crescendos, eventually recalling the earlier themes, the composer constantly shifting keys to re-focus earlier musical ideas. Feldman played like a true professional, urging on various sections in accompaniment, listening carefully to his stage-mates. An engaged duet with concertmaster David Gable in the finale was particularly notable.
With such a challenging work, there were bound to be unfulfilled musical moments. There were times that the strings lacked a uniform tone, and exposed moments in the winds and horns that begged for a do-over. A lack of crispness, especially in articulating some brisk triple passages, marred some of the expression.
Overall however, this is just what audiences—and presumably, the musicians themselves—want to experience: the very best works, tackled with energy and enthusiasm.
To be sure, this was not the only challenging work on the program. Von Weber’s Oberon overture returns repeatedly to the concert stage for a reason—the work is fascinating. The richly scored and popular piece was introduced nicely by French horn (Fietek), and also featured a well-turned clarinet solo (DiPasqua-Egan).
Mozart’s C major, No. 34 had a pastorale, out-on-the-hunt feeling, brisk and lively. The middle movement showed the strings at their best. Playing quietly, with only the bassoons (doubling the low strings) to accompany them, each of the sections played attentively, in tune and with articulate phrasing. The performance grew in energy, climaxing in the finale, pulsatingly rhythmic with a dance-like swing.
The next Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra performance will be a community sing and play, Readings and Carols, with the Falmouth Chorale, on Dec. 21 in Falmouth’s First Congregational Church. Visit www.falmouthchamberplayers.org or call 508-274-2632.