Over the weekend, I heard the Orion Ensemble perform a program dedicated to French music at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston. This was my first concert attending a concert featuring the ensemble and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend.
The performance began with the quirky Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano by Jean Françaix. The somber beginning began with a rocky start as a result of some intonation issues that persisted throughout the first two movements. By the third movement, the ensemble had settled on stage and the performance improved. Once the ensemble settled into the performance, the character of the composition came alive, which had a cabaret tint to it. The highlight of the Françaix Trio was Largo, the fourth movement. The performance had a nice flow which was led by a nice melody.
The concert continued with the schmaltzy Sonata in A Major for Violin or Cello and Piano by César Franck. This piece can either be performed by violin or cello and several other arrangements exist for different instrument combinations. However, the Orion Ensemble elected to mix it up by performing the first two movements with cello and ending with the final two movements on violin.
My only wish is that they had chosen to stick with one instrumentation group. Nothing against either performer because both played beautifully, but I just felt it interrupted the flow of the Sonata to change performers in the middle. Despite me being nitpicky about changing performers, the overall performance by all three performers was exquisite. Each soloist performed with sonata with great character and much needed passion.
After the intermission, the entire ensemble entered the stage for the final piece of the evening. Having never heard the Quintet in F Major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano by Theodore DuBois, I was curious to hear the piece. After experiencing it in pa live performance, once will suffice. The ensemble played the piece beautifully and did what they could with it. In fact, any signs of intonation problems that were apparent at the beginning of the concert were absent. The ensemble brought out the charm and beauty of the composition quite nicely. For my tastes, the music lacked the substance I prefer.
The Orion Ensemble is Kathryne Pertle (Clarinet), Florentina Ramniceanu (Violin), Jennifer Marlas (Viola), Judy Stone (Cello) and Diana Schmück (Piano).