Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia's Monday concert could have been titled "Return of the Burgomeister Orchestra." Back when the dollar meant more to Europeans, provincial German chamber orchestras would crisscross the country, targeting cities great and small with posters (often orange, for some reason) dominated by words like
, offering low-cost tickets and get-what-you-pay-for performances.
What they didn't have was a world-class cellist such as Jan Vogler, the Chamber Orchestra's guest soloist at the Kimmel Center, who played two concertos. The C.P.E. Bach
Cello Concerto in A major
isn't new to Philadelphia audiences, but feels that way in a performance as excellent as Vogler's: The highly compressed piece seems to have enough content for three concertos, and has so many intriguingly not-quite-congruent nooks and crannies that you tend to stumble upon a new one with each encounter.
A seconds-long transitional passage is built out of a chromaticism that few composers until Wagner ventured into. Elsewhere, the music's sheer knottiness suggests new meaning with each hearing. Vogler's bright, forthright tone and highly inflected manner acted like a much-needed beacon in the piece. In the expansive, marvelously pensive slow movement, he entranced the ear with long-held notes that began with a lack of vibrato that implied emotional nakedness, but sweetened in the final nanosecond with a bit of pulsing - just as your ears insisted on it.
During the Boccherini
Cello Concerto in B flat
, you could have thought your brain had gone channel surfing through the 18th century. Though the program notes prepared you to hear the original version, this concerto became a classic in a high-handed arrangement made almost a century after the composer's death by one Friedrich Grützmacher.
We're taught that the original is better. Not here. The piece's famously melancholy slow movement is gone; something far less interesting is in its place. Even familiar passages sat in an uncomfortable register. Vogler was cruelly forced to spend lots of time in the highest reaches of the cello range where staying consistently on pitch is impossible. If this version is going to be viable, early-18th-century instruments are most likely in order.
Guest conductor Grant Llewellyn would seem to be an expert in this repertoire: He's principal conductor of Boston's Handel and Haydn Society. Corelli's
Concerto Grosso in D major (Op. 6, No. 1)
had appropriate panache and unusual comprehension, but closing the concert with Handel's
Concerto grosso in A minor (Op. 6, No. 4
) was oddly ill-advised. The piece is one of the weakest in Opus 6, and the orchestra played with plain, unalluring tone. Tempos were neither here nor there. Just like the old days. Unfortunately.