To hear clarinetist Richard Stoltzman play is to experience the heights of musical enjoyment. He joined the National Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at Strathmore Music Center on Saturday for Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, one of the composer's loftiest works. For the allegros, Stoltzman's articulation underscored the sort of teasing temperament that gives Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" its spice and vigor. Cascading scale passages sounded effortless. In the Adagio, phrases anchored in a sublime legato were defined with the clarity of a spoken language.
In the concerto, as in the first suite from Handel's familiar "Water Music" and the 8-year-old Mozart's First Symphony, the orchestra had some difficulties in aiming for the big-time standards expected at Strathmore. Conductor Piotr Gajewski has brought his orchestra, one of the metropolitan region's most frequently heard ensembles, a long way. And its outreach is broad -- children had free admission Saturday. Yet all evening, orchestral ensemble was loose, entrances were shaky, balance was not quite achieved, and the horns had too many glitches. Gajewski's drive for high-speed playing tested his orchestra's capabilities and proved as unsettling as watching a train threatening to derail as it barrels down the tracks.
-- Cecelia Porter