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Exactly one year ago, when the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performed at the Music Center at Strathmore in a program that included two Mozart piano concertos, I wondered here in print whether going it alone in that repertoire was really optimal, given the complexity of the scores and the naturally opposing forces of soloist and orchestra.
Nothing impresses me more than chutzpah, and Thursday night the same forces in the same hall upped the ante considerably, putting on the gargantuan Brahms Piano Concerto in D Minor, this time with Yefim Bronfman riding shotgun. I doubt whether such a thing had been attempted before, anywhere.
Every musician onstage was a consummate professional who relished this unprecedented challenge. The results were impressive -- every Orpheus performance is -- but it was a stunt nonetheless. The head-bobbing required of the concertmaster to commence and maintain the Adagio, for example, made many of us nervous. The brief, intense three-voice canon that precedes the solo entry in the first movement was unbalanced, and there was a distinct sense of the musicians "hanging on to" one another throughout. Even Bronfman was called upon to give cues, and he had his hands full.
The additional tension did not seem to faze him, however; the solo part was spread on a wide, colorful canvas, and the big second-subject solos in the first movement were masterfully built up. Earlier, Orpheus gave sparkling readings of three Brahms Hungarian Dances and Schoenberg's lush Chamber Symphony No. 1.