Haydn: Symphony No. 22 in E-flat
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in C Major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1
Based on the scratchings in my notebook--and somewhat unbelievably--I have heard Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 more often than any of the composer's other symphonies in the course of my listening life. Major chamber orchestras in big cities, not-so-major orchestras in smaller cities, and the KSCO itself in 2004, are among them. I seem to gravitate to performances of it for some reason, enchanted by the bridge that it is between classicism and early romanticism, enchanted by the sometimes quirky influence of Haydn, and enchanted by Beethoven drawing the woodwinds out into the open, opening up entirely new worlds of orchestral textural flavor. Sunday's performance by the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra, under resident conductor James Fellenbaum, now ranks in the rarefied company of the best of those performances.
Of course, "quirky" is a relative term. Beginning an orchestral work with a C-seventh chord of plucked strings and perky woodwinds would not be particularly shocking, unusual, or humorous today, or any other time in the 19th or 20th centuries. But it was an example of Beethoven's end-of-an-era adoption of a Haydn-esque peculiarity. In fact, it was in the quintessential Beethoven stylistic elements that Fellenbaum and the orchestra succeeded brilliantly. Fluid dynamics and perfectly balanced ebb and flow between strings and woodwinds along with crisp ensemble playing marked the piece throughout.
I confess that Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major is also one of those works I have unconsciously gravitated to over the years, partly having heard it played daily in a production I was involved in some years ago. That said, the KSCO was clean and solid in this performance, but the trumpet solo, performed by principal trumpet Cathy Leach, was marred by the occasional mushy, fragile tone and imprecision where crystalline brightness and confidence should have been.
Fellenbaum opened the concert with Haydn's 1764 work, Symphony No. 22 in E-flat Major, a work that was delightfully new to me. The symphony covers a fascinating gamut of ever-increasing tempi, beginning with a plodding adagio and concluding with an energetic presto. In fact, it is probably this construction which, somewhat esoterically, is the reason for the symphony's nickname, "The Philosopher." Also notable was the work's instrumentation that seems to foreshadow the change in orchestral textures from the Baroque--two French and two English horns, plus strings. The wind texture was warm and mellow, contrasting nicely against the strings.