Music Review: Artek, an Early-Music Orchestra, at Immanuel Lutheran Church

January 2nd, 2013

No drinks were quaffed nor meals consumed during a performance by the early-music ensemble Artek on Saturday night at Immanuel Lutheran Church on the Upper East Side. Conversation ceased when music was played. Applause came almost exclusively at the end of each work. It was almost a shame — given that the performers, billed as the Artek Orchestra, went to unusual lengths to present “Mozartean Masterpieces” in a manner inspired by accounts from Mozart’s day, you almost wanted the audience to respond in kind.

Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Artek Orchestra The soprano Sarah Chalfy performing “Ch’io mi scordi di te” in an all-Mozart program at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

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True, the setting was a stately sanctuary rather than a well-appointed private salon, but the orchestra was configured as an 18th-century working band. Five first violinists and four seconds flanked two fortepianos, arranged so that their players faced each other. A violist, a cellist and a bassist sat behind each violin section, with woodwinds and natural horns arrayed across the rear.

In keeping with its title, the program included canonical works spanning much of Mozart’s creative life, from the 1773 motet “Exsultate, Jubilate” (K. 165) to the Symphony No. 40 in G minor of 1788. But the presentation harked back to a time before the symphony as a form had attained its exalted status; here the first three movements of the G minor opened the concert, the finale arriving some two hours later to conclude the evening.

Abetted by a pitch lower than the modern standard, with A tuned to 430 cycles per second instead of 440, the symphony sounded unusually shadowy and ominous, even at the broad pace adopted by the ensemble’s director, Gwendolyn Toth. The benefit of the seating arrangement, particularly that of the lower strings, was evident in the full, rich sound the small ensemble produced.

Mozart’s Concerto No. 7 in F, originally for three pianists and revised for two, was a frolicsome lark for its soloists, Ms. Toth and Dongsok Shin, who elsewhere played in the ensemble. Ms. Toth performed a modern copy of a fortepiano owned by Mozart, and Mr. Shin used a period instrument; each produced a fragile sound that made you appreciate anew the complexities of ensemble balance and the urge that spurs instrument builders to refine and innovate.

In the concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te” (K. 505), and again in “Exsultate, Jubilate,” the soprano Sarah Chalfy sang with a clear, pealing tone; agility; and abundant spirit. Ms. Toth’s musicality and taste compensated for her instrument’s chaste dimensions in the ubiquitous Andante from the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C.

That pitch could be wayward probably goes without saying when period instruments and cold, damp weather collide. Still, the performance was wholly admirable, with firm leadership from the concertmaster Cynthia Freivogel and fine contributions from the principal wind players.

Artek’s next presentation, “Potpourri: Music for Guitar and Fortepiano,” will be presented on Feb. 28 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 122 East 88th Street, Manhattan; (212) 866-0468, artekearlymusic.org.

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