Kansas City Chamber Orchestra opened its 28th season with a sunny selection of repertoire stalwarts for their “Heroes and Landscapes” performance in Helzberg Hall on Saturday night. Music director Bruce Sorrell guided the ensemble with conducting that was distinct, yet gracefully unobtrusive, allowing the music to be the leader.
The orchestra achieved an uplifting start with Mozart’s delectable overture to “La nozze di Figaro.” The scurrying interplay of the line and constant rhythmic activity generated a general bouncy nature to the work. The plummy chords revealed the ensemble’s attention to balance.
The orchestra followed with a rather glossy Symphony no. 4, Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony” suggesting a kindly nostalgia with warmth and gaiety. The winds’ opening repetitive notes of the first movement percolated under the long line of the melody, with a nicely unhurried motif. The continuity between voices came off well, as when the violins echoed the clarinet, and well-crafted crescendos were firm and deliberate.
The second movement had a leisurely quality with a delicate melody. In the tidy third movement, the low strings showed how their supporting voices were essential and subtle, becoming somehow more noticeable when they weren’t playing. Throughout these inner movements, though, the ensemble didn’t seem as fully committed, neglecting to make the most of every musical moment, the mid-range dynamics lacking body. Nevertheless, they garnered mid-movement applause.
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Emboldened, perhaps, they attacked the skittering, energetic final movement, introduced with vigorous bowing. The winds and strings demonstrated easy-seeming transfers of the rapid line with the timpani and brass pushing from underneath.
Beethoven was in his own time a heroic figure, but has become a mythical one. His third symphony, “Eroica,” demonstrates his genius for knowing how long to extend and manipulate a motif before introducing another attention-grabbing effect. The sound radiating from the stage, while poignant during pianissimos, was especially impressive at forte, given the size of the ensemble, as it swelled with the ever-blossoming theme, propelled by inner voices.
Sturdy brass and seamless transitions marked the first movement. They paid careful attention to the stress and growth at the first notes of the second movement’s theme, repeatedly building and dispersing tension.
Beethoven saved his biggest crowd-pleasing moments for the fourth movement, of course. The ensemble relished them, too, with a zealous introduction, fragile wind choral, some trickily deceptive crescendos and (with the horns increasingly confident with every entrance) a particularly biting flair to the robust, dramatic final tones.