Review: The Joys of a Conductorless Chamber Performance

Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

The beauty, joy and freshness of the Saint Paul players’ music-making on Saturday didn’t just breathe life into well-worn standards of the repertory. To me, it was also a reassurance that, in certain quarters, participatory democracy is alive and well.

The concert opened with the New York premiere of “O Mikros, O Megas (‘This Tiny World, This Enormous World’)” by Mr. Tsontakis, who has a fruitful history of collaborating with the orchestra. A retrospective wistfulness clings to its four movements, whether in the Old World elegance of the opening, “Footprints,” which seemed to invite dancing in swooshing skirts, or the Coplandian fiddle strains of “Orbiting (Heart and Soul).”

Scored for strings only, “O Mikros, O Megas” provided an introduction to the refined sound of the musicians. In the subtle gradations from robust dense tone to smoky layers, their playing often resembled that of a first-rate string quartet.

That quality was magnified in the performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A (K. 488), for which the irrepressibly charismatic pianist Jeremy Denk joined the orchestra. The airy, upbeat first movement was followed by an Andante of exquisite velvety inwardness, with moments of swelling tone and yearning expressivity that were all the more poignant for being reined in so quickly. Mr. Denk’s interplay with the orchestra’s individual soloists, like the fine clarinets, appeared easy and equal — a joy to watch.

Read the full review here.