It is late January — it is cold, it may snow and William Scheide invited the town to his musical birthday party. These annual celebrations, presented by the Scheides and benefitting a local non-profit organization, have become a happening in Princeton, and last Friday night’s concert in Richardson Auditorium was sold out several days ahead of time — a celebration for all involved. In true Scheide fashion, the concert was not just about the birthday celebrant, and as this year’s beneficiary, the Princeton Public Library was rightfully enthusiastic.
As in past years, the visiting Wiener KammerOrchester and conductor Mark Laycock provided the music, beginning with an overture by the evening’s other birthday boy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who turned 256 on Friday. The overture to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro gave the Wiener KammerOrchester many opportunities to show grace and precision with Viennese flair, and the ensemble did not disappoint. The strings were very clean on the opening instrumental swirls and the flute and oboe lines could clearly be heard. Mr. Laycock maintained a nice ebb and flow to the phrases, and the KammerOrchester demonstrated a full and rich sound without becoming out of control dynamically.
These Scheide birthday celebrations have often included guest soloists, and this year the KammerOrchester was joined by the legendary husband-and-wife team of violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson. Two-thirds of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson have also had successful careers as soloists and teachers.
Other 18th and 19th-century composers have featured two solos instruments in concerto format, but Johannes Brahms was the first to combine violin and cello in his Double Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Orchestra in A minor. This was an unusual concerto in its introduction of the opening material in a cadenza played by the cello soloist. Ms. Robinson started right off with double stops in a somewhat disjunct line answered by clean winds and a very sweet violin solo by Mr. Laredo. Mr. Laredo has an especially remarkably appealing sound in the upper register of the instrument, and he and Ms. Robinson complemented each other as they traded cadenzas and triplet passages. A very nice sonority was heard as the solo cello was accompanied by sectional violas, and the numerous instances of “question-and-answer” between the soloists were cleanly handled by the players. The gypsy-flavored vivace finale showed sauciness and flair from both soloists and orchestra, with timpanist Klaus Zauner, who had remained very subtle during the Mozart, coming to life to close the Brahms decisively.
The Scheides have maintained a long commitment to education, and the second half of the concert featured an emerging pianist playing the product of one of William Scheide’s favorite past-times — collecting rare musical scores. In his youth, Brahms apparently provided a short piano solo work to an “autograph book” of a 19th-century conductor and collector Arnold Wehner in Germany. Mr. Scheide recently acquired this book, and excerpted Brahms’s short untitled piece (titled by the Scheides Albumblatt in A minor) for New York University student Andrew Sun to play. Particularly fun was the Scheide’s printing of the piece as a program insert, enabling the audience to follow along. A student of a student of Vladimir Horowitz at NYU, Mr. Sun kept the internal running eighth notes very steady, with nice phrase direction, bringing out the suspensions which remind performers that this was a composition by a young Viennese.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major has been considered one of his more “upbeat” works, yet the circumstances of its premiere were more poignant than carefree. This symphony is also celebrating a birthday; composed between 1811 and 1812, it was premiered at a concert benefitting “Austrian and Bavarian soldiers disabled at the battle of Hanau, part of the Napoleonic Wars.” Beginning with a lilting oboe solo played by Hannes Strassl, the KammerOrchester was well-restrained but ready to unleash the powerful orchestral scales and sectional trills of the first movement. Mr. Laycock capitalized on the rise and fall of dynamics, bringing the orchestra to its fullest sound on the main theme. This was a spirited and joyful performance, suitable for the occasion, with excellent solo playing from Mr. Strassl and flutist Renate Linortner.
Beethoven composed the very familiar second movement in an andante tempo, but eventually changed this tempo to allegretto. Mr. Laycock and the KammerOrchester took the tempo on the faster side of allegretto, keeping the ostinato a bit on the dry side, contrasting with the lyrical and poignant tune from the violas and celli. Flutes and oboes played perfectly together on the melody, and one could hear the Classical counterpoint of the movement. The KammerOrchester closed the symphony well, bringing the ensemble to full sound and showing off the clean playing of the brass.
As in past years, Mr. Laycock topped off the concert with his own “discovery” of a work by a well-known composer which happens to include “Happy Birthday” interspersed into the familiar music. This year the composer was Tchaikovsky, and after weaving a convoluted tale of how this work remained hidden for the past 100 or so years, Mr. Laycock presented his version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, also a Napoleonic work. One cannot underestimate the amount of work it takes to rearrange this piece to include “Happy Birthday” in clever and witty occurrences, and a special treat came in the way Mr. Laycock handled the Russian tunes in the overture. Joining the KammerOrchester was the excellent Russian Chamber Chorus of New York singing the opening Slavic Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross (usually assigned to violas and celli). Mr. Laycock also incorporated a sung Russian folk song into the overture, which includes a Russian folk dance. As an arranger, Mr. Laycock clearly had control over Russian harmonic changes, and nothing seemed out of place musically as bits and pieces of “Happy Birthday” wandered through the score. The audience was clearly in rapt attention, listening for the next appearance of the song, as Princeton wished William Scheide yet another great year.