Image courtesy The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

The SPCO Returns

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by Thomas Zehetmair

Thursday night’s concert in Apple Valley marked The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra‘s return to the stage after a bitter six-month lockout. With only a small handful of musician-organized concerts having been held during the lockout, the audience was clearly eager to hear the SPCO perform again, and they did not disappoint, giving energetic and forceful performances of pieces by Schumann (with cellist Steven Isserlis), Mozart, and Schoenberg under conductor Thomas Zehetmair.

At the beginning of the concert, the crowd greeted the musicians with a standing ovation. The music started with Mozart’s overture from The Marriage of Figaro, a late addition to the program that was likely meant to get things off to a rousing start. If so, the plan worked, with the musicians delivering a bright, vivacious performance.

Next, Isserlis joined the orchestra for Schumann’s Cello Concerto. Whereas, in the typical concerto, the soloist is placed very clearly in front of the orchestra, Schumann places the cello more within the ensemble, and Isserlis highlighted this characteristic of the piece by giving the cello part an almost floating quality, with a looser approach to tempo than employed by the rest of the group. In the final movement, the piece’s unusual accompanied cadenza came off as a revelation.

After the intermission, the group played Schoenberg’s little-known Ten Early Waltzes. The program note included an appeal to the effect of “this isn’t the Schoenberg you think you hate,” and as it turned out, the pieces were very approachable without being trite, wearing the influence of Brahms.

The evening ended with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39. Next to its contemporaries — No. 40 with its famous “it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Mozart” theme, and No. 41 with its rousing finale — No. 39 may just be a strong Mozart symphony, but that’s a pretty good thing to be. In the first movement, the musicians kept the anticipation building as the slow introduction gradually led in to the faster main body. The slow movement unfolded beautifully, and the SPCO brought the finale to a close with drive and vigor.

These musicians have obviously been through a lot over the past year, and it will take time for the SPCO to recover from the lockout, particularly as several players are expected to retire or otherwise leave the orchestra in the coming months. But as Thursday’s concert demonstrated, their commitment to the music and the artistry they bring to their performances has not suffered.

Archival photo by Sarah Rubinstein

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.