The Leningrad Conservatory Chamber Orchestra brought resplendent sounds to the new concert hall of the George Mason University Center for the Arts on Sunday. The group's superb talent and impeccable precision was particularly well suited to works by Arensky, Shostakovich, Schnittke and Tchaikovsky.
Its U.S. tour coincides with the 150th anniversary of Tchaikovsky's birth, so it was fitting that the concert closed with his Serenade for Strings. The performance was revealing for its insight, as conductor Saulus Sondetskys extracted supple phrasing and dynamic extremes from his players, who were more than equal to the challenge. Their rich and well-balanced sound retained its consistent beauty throughout.
Arensky's "Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky" opened the concert in a tender, lyric vein. This work and the one that followed, the "Chamber Symphony" by Shostakovich, also have lives as string quartets, as was evident in the orchestra's approach to them. The players reacted with amazing sensitivity to their conductor and to each other, resulting in perfectly tuned harmonics near the end of the Arensky and consistent clarity in the poignant motto theme that dominates the Shostakovich symphony.
The program's remaining work, Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, is fairly astringent. Piano soloist Igor Urjash showed tremendous power, but he also brought great poetry to the work's enigmatic conclusion.