The National Chamber Ensemble’s 2019 – 2020 season launched this past Saturday with Mozart Celebration, which featured several of the composer’s beloved works. Mozart is one of those composers who was known to have a very unusual personality. Under the leadership of Artistic Director and violinist Leonid Sushansky, the National Chamber Ensemble presented a concert which painted a lovely picture of Mozart’s most epic highs and lows.
The selections began with the soaring “Overture to Marriage of Figaro.” Here we have Carlos Cesar Rodriguez on piano, violinists Leonid Sushansky and Jorge Orozco, Uri Wassertzug on viola and Rosanna Butterfield on cello. This popular Mozart piece is most frequently heard in symphonic form before the opera it precedes. The National Chamber Ensemble allows one a unique opportunity to hear the music in a form that’s stripped down, but without the loss of any of its sonorous depth. It was equally as enjoyable a rendition as any that I’ve heard in large concert halls and theatres.
There is something intimate and welcoming about the National Chamber Ensemble that you don’t get elsewhere. The Gunston Arts Center, while not the grandest of venues, is friendly and accessible. The lobby conversations are more like the conversations you would have with a friend rather than the typical one-upmanship that is sometimes found in elitist classical music circles. In addition to the warm environment, the music is always superb and the professionalism of the musicians is unmatched and undeniable.
The concert continued with the “Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major, K.488”, arranged by Ignaz Lachner. The three movements of this piece offered an opportunity for the musicians to flex their abilities to draw emotions out of the several twists and turns in this composition. For those of us who are less musically inclined, watching Roriguez’s hands move so swiftly over the piano’s keys is nothing short of magical.
For the latter half of the program the “Symphony No.40 in G Minor, K.550”, with an arrangement by P. Lichtenthal, was chosen. A popular example of the Sturm und Drang style, this composition’s Molto allegro movement is widely considered to be one of the best works produced by Mozart. For this piece, Rodriguez’s piano is replaced with Jennifer Reis’ viola, making this an all-strings affair.
The performance of this work was resplendent, as is to be expected when it is taken on by musicians of this caliber. The “storm and stress” style was embodied in a way that removed you from yourself and took you along with the music. The standing ovation received at the end of the concert was well-deserved.
Sushansky’s selections for this concert made for the perfect Mozart sampler. As always, the National Chamber Ensemble blends music with a warm atmosphere that new fans of classical works will find approachable and old timers will appreciate as a unique offering in the DC metro area. The Mozart Celebration offered a wonderful introduction to the National Chamber Ensemble and a window into what to expect from their upcoming season.
Mozart Celebration played on October 19, 2019, at the National Chamber Ensemble at Gunston Arts Center. Their next concert, Holiday Cheer, will play December 14, 2019, at 7:30pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington—4444 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia. Tickets can be purchased online.