by Robert Leeper
The 92Y’s season kicked off last Thursday with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra — best known for their conductor-less performances — performing with cellist Mischa Maisky. Schubert’s beloved “Arpeggione” Sonata, arranged for cello and string orchestra by Dobrinka Tabakova, was bookended by Anton Arensky’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, and Tchaikovsky’s own Serenade for Strings.
Beginning life as as the slow movement of Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2, the variations on Tchaikovsky’s “Legend” from his Sixteen Children’s Songs were composed the year after Tchaikovsky’s death as a tribute to the late composer. Arensky's seven variations and coda all stay fairly close to the hymn-like theme. Particularly notable was the the fifth variation (Andante), which was given an exceptionally beautiful rendition.
Tchiakovsky's Serenade for Strings is written in Neo-Classical mode, and Orpheus delivered with Mozartian transparency and articulation. In the stately introduction, the noble theme was a given a warm reading and there was buoyancy and character in the main allegro section. The gracious Valse was sunny and light, while the Élégie was robust and evocative before teasing out bits of Russian flair tucked into the niceties of the finale.