There was celebration aplenty Friday night at the Barns at Wolf Trap: The Moscow Chamber Orchestra is marking its 50th season, the Barns its 25th.
The 17-member MCO retains almost the precision of a well-drilled string quartet. Yet it sounded as resonant as a much larger ensemble, thanks to the acoustics of Wolf Trap's 1731 barn-turned-concert-hall. Conductor Constantine Orbelian brightened the evening immediately with Grieg's "Holberg Suite," which featured warm sound, unusually clear pizzicati and especially fine cello playing.
Principal cellist Alexander Zagorinsky brought great warmth and richness of tone to Tchaikovsky's Pezzo Capriccioso in B Minor, handling its dramatic opening and difficult scurrying runs with equal ease.
Shostakovich's anguished Chamber Symphony in C Minor, an arrangement of his String Quartet No. 8 by MCO founder Rudolf Barshai, darkened the mood considerably. This is taut, dour music, filled with self-quotations and bits of Wagner and Tchaikovsky -- assembled as autobiography, not pastiche. The MCO's precise playing perfectly suited this compressed, angular work.
Barshai's arrangement of Prokofiev's five piano trifles, "Visions Fugitives," opened the second half with fine ensemble work and more excellent pizzicati. Then came an amazingly lush Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings. The waltz was played with wonderful lilt and delicacy, the cellos' sound had the richness of melted butter in the "Elegie," and the precision of the speedy finale was remarkable. It was as if there were magic in the wood -- both the wood of the instruments and that of the Barns.
-- Mark J. Estren