Music Review: New York String Orchestra, Conducted by Jaime Laredo, at Carnegie Hall

December 31st, 2012

Richard Termine for The New York Times

New York String Orchestra The clarinetist Anthony McGill and the conductor Jaime Laredo at Carnegie Hall, at the end of a seminar for young musicians.

Mozart wrote several remarkable works for the Austrian clarinetist Anton Stadler, his friend and fellow Mason, including the great Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, and the Clarinet Concerto, the last major score Mozart completed, shortly before dying. He was clearly inspired by his colleague’s virtuosity and artistry. From all reports, Stadler could bend a gentle phrase with uncommon delicacy. Johann Schink, a Viennese critic, wrote that he would not have thought it possible for a clarinet to “imitate the human voice so deceptively,” as Stadler did.

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Schink’s words could be applied to the performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A that Anthony McGill gave on Friday night at Carnegie Hall with the New York String Orchestra, conducted by Jaime Laredo. Besides his work as a concerto soloist and chamber music player, Mr. McGill is a principal clarinetist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, a job that surely enhances what has to be a natural penchant for singing tone and lyrical phrasing.

In the concerto’s genial first movement and the spirited Rondo, Mr. McGill played with rhythmic brio and impeccable clarity. Yet even in passages that seem jocular on the surface, he brought out the hints of poignancy and resignation that run through the music. Mr. McGill was particularly affecting in the dreamy Adagio movement, shaping arching phrases with glowing sound and tenderness. It was like hearing a wordless mezzo-soprano in a Mozart opera. And it is always a pleasure to hear a performer who so visibly enjoys playing for people.

The New York String Orchestra sensitively complemented his performance. Since 1969 this organization has brought young musicians to New York for a 10-day seminar of coaching and chamber music, with the larger goal of performing two orchestral programs at Carnegie Hall under Mr. Laredo, the project’s artistic director. This time there were 62 participants, ranging in age from 15 to 22, most of them string players, but also woodwind and brass students. The first concert was on Christmas Eve. Friday’s program was the conclusion of the 2012 seminar.

The evening opened with a dark, vibrant account of “The Hebrides,” Mendelssohn’s concert overture. Mr. Laredo’s restrained tempo allowed this somber music to emerge with breadth and eerie calm. The string sound was warm and penetrating. Even the brassy, agitated outbursts came across as majestic.

Cicely Parnas, a fast-rising young cellist, was the impressive soloist in a rhapsodic performance of Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, one of the composer’s most original and popular works. Running 20 minutes without a break, the piece has an impetuous opening movement, followed by a dancing, gentle Allegretto and a swirling finale. Ms. Parnas (a granddaughter of the famed cellist Leslie Parnas) brought velvety sound, articulate passagework and keen imagination to her performance, abetted all the way by Mr. Laredo and his players.

The program ended with the orchestra letting loose in rousing performances of four of Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances.”

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