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.
But it was Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata (D. 821) that ultimately lingered in the ear and held the mind with a poetic depth. Written originally for the Arpeggione, a short lived cross between a cello and guitar, Maisky played it with complete command. The opening conveys a winsomely lyrical character with a happily burbling second subject. Sheer depth and glowing beauty distinguished the wistful slow movement: a song without words sung over a rocking accompaniment with the utmost simplicity. Backed by the alert orchestra, Maisky dispatched the dazzling perpetual-motion finale with effortless technique and crackling energy. The playing offered fleeting moments of minor-key temperament yet was never allowed to cloud the radiant lyricism of the tuneful, recurring main theme. The performance was is melodically refined, with exceptionally clean textures and clear articulation.
Following the Schubert, the Orpheus gave an encore of Tchaikovsky's melancholy "Andante Cantibile," the audience erupting with huge applause afterwards. More info on the rest of the 92Y concert season here.