Review: Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra ‘Beethoven and Boccherini’

At Sunday afternoon’s concert of the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra, I noticed that a couple seated near me did not return after intermission for the second half of the program— Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. I can only hope they settled in to other seats downstairs at the Bijou, or were perhaps called away on a pressing matter. Otherwise, if they exited believing in the falsehood that the Fourth is a poor lyrical cousin to the Third and the Fifth Symphonies, they’ll now have to live the rest of their lives with the knowledge that they missed one of the most compelling performances of a Beethoven symphony I have yet heard in Knoxville.

There is, of course, endless writings on the place of the Fourth among the nine symphonies, with the most often quoted line coming from composer Robert Schumann: “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants.” However, for those who delight in mystery paired with liveliness, there is certainly no need for pity. Berlioz compared the opening movement to “…a river whose calm waters suddenly disappear and only leave the subterranean bed to plunge with a roar in a foaming waterfall.”

Maestro James Fellenbaum, the resident conductor of the KSO, was on the podium for this remarkable performance, one that was clean, focused, and razor-sharp in its control, yet passionate and warm in its display. I readily admit a partiality for the third movement (Allegro vivace) which is a test of an orchestra’s ensemble footing. In this case, the juxtaposition of the string pronouncements against the woodwind’s delicious runs was solid. Equally admirable was the woodwind performance in the finale, where humorous little statements are made by the oboe, then repeated by the flute and buoyed by the others in a feast of woodwind textures. All the while, the facile KSCO strings managed their footrace with charming dexterity.

The symphony was first performed in 1807 at a private concert that also featured the composer’s Coriolan Overture, a work that also opened Sunday’s KSCO concert. After the overture, cellist Wesley Baldwin, a UT School of Music faculty member, joined the orchestra for Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat. The concerto is, in fact, the creation of Friedrich Grützmacher, a late 19th century cellist and arranger who worked in the court at Dresden. Grützmacher reshaped the classicism of Boccherini’s original into something a bit more palatable for Romantic-era ears by replacing the second movement of Boccherini’s original with that of another concerto and using themes from other Boccherini works.

This hybrid work is massively charming, a quirky, if not eccentric mixture of Classical form and Romantic sensibilities. Baldwin, who is usually quite the passionate player, seemed more restrained on this occasion, with some of the structural irregularities in the work appearing to have him at a disadvantage, particularly on quick mid-passage statements. Nevertheless, the unusual tonality shifts that ventured into mysterious territory seemed to work overall, with Baldwin’s handling of the work’s intricacies while maintaining a deliciously warm cello tone being greatly appreciated and solidly rewarded.

Classical Music This Week: 9/29-10/5

Although the fall season event schedule starts getting really heavy next week, here are a few intriguing things to keep you occupied this week. (See a preview of Sunday’s Faculty Chamber Series in this week’s Metro Pulse.)

Monday, September 29
Apollo Duo, flute and percussion, guest artist recital
Stefanie Abderhalden, flute;  Jeremy Johnston, percussion
8:00 p.m. Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall, Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, Free

Tuesday, September 30
Jason Bergman, trumpet, with Ellen Elder, piano
Guest artist recital
Works by Scriabin, Arutunian, Penaforte, and Gershwin
8:00 p.m. Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall, Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, Free

Wednesday, October 1
The University of Tennessee Percussion Ensemble
Dr. Andrew M. Bliss, Director
8:00 p.m. Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall, Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, Free

Sunday, October 5
UT School of Music Faculty Chamber Series Concert
School of Music faculty solos and ensembles; Reception to follow concert
Works by Saint-Saëns, Debussy, D’Rivera, and Smith
3:00 p.m. Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall, Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, Free

Sunday: Beethoven and Boccherini at the Bijou

It’s no secret the Bijou Theatre is one of the absolute gems of sensational natural acoustics, not just in Knoxville, but anywhere in the U.S. And, the Bijou is the site of a concert series that makes full use of the great acoustics–the Chamber Classics Series of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. That series opens for the season this Sunday afternoon (September 28) with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra in a program of two works by Ludwig van Beethoven and one by the Italian Classical era composer Luigi Boccherini. KSO resident conductor James Fellenbaum will be on the Bijou podium.

WesleyBaldwinThe Boccherini work is the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B-flat Major (G. 482) which will feature cellist Wesley Baldwin. Baldwin has been on the music faculty at the University of Tennessee School of Music since 1998 and is a familiar performance face around Knoxville, as well as at national and international music festivals.

The version of the concerto being done on Sunday’s concert is actually an arrangement by the 19th Century German cellist and arranger, Friedrich Grützmacher. In the arrangement, Grützmacher replaced the original second movement with the second movement from Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in G Major (G. 480), in addition to using pieces from other concertos and sonatas to augment cuts he made in the original first and third movements. This version has been the one typically performed for many years, although performances of the original have been showing up recently.

The concert will also offer two works by Beethoven–the Coriolan Overture and the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60. While much has been written about the Fourth symphony standing between the dominating Third and the Fifth symphonies, there is, nonetheless, tons of charm, passion, sweetness, and joy in it.

Bijou Theatre, 803 S. Gay Street, Downtown
2:30 p.m.

Tickets: Telephone 865-291-3310 or online at knoxvillesymphony.com. Tickets start at $15.

Alan Sherrod serves up a big plate of nourishing commentary on the Knoxville classical music and fine arts scene.