For its sold-out Mozartiana concert in the Rialto Saturday night, the Northwest Sinfonietta did what it does best: classical music, elegant and thoughtful, and capped with an ethereal new composition for clarinet by Alissa Firsova.
After opening with a Rossini overture – “La Scala di Seta” – that involved sprightly violins, edgy horns and a blossoming oboe solo, plus subtly quirky timing from director Christophe Chagnard, Firsova herself stepped forward to introduce her piece. Commissioned by Seattle clarinet soloist Laurie DeLuca and given a world premiere on Friday night in Seattle, the piece, as explained clearly and personably by the youthful Firsova, is intended to reflect the freedom of both composition and general life that the composer has in England, compared to the Soviet Russia where her parents (both composers) had moved there from.
Unlike Soviet-era music, Firsova’s tonality is light, moving easily between consonance and dissonance without holding onto either. Opening with a spacious cloud of violins over horns, the “Freedom” concerto gives the clarinet a melody as calm and neo-Romantic as Elgar or Bax. DeLuca played with restrained feeling and soaring phrases, supported completely by the orchestra, through a plaintive duo with horn and, after a Stravinsky-like outburst, into an incredibly haunting ending of pianississimo dissonance. With this piece Alissa Firsova is holding up to a promise shown by winning the BBC/Guardian/Proms Young Composers Competition at age 13; it will be interesting to see how her music develops.
Like the first-ever Sinfonietta concert 20 years ago, Saturday night’s concert made Mozart the main course. After intermission came two old favorites: the clarinet concerto in A and Symphony no. 40 in g minor. Laurie DeLuca in the concerto proved once again just why she’s such a respected soloist, as well as clarinetist with the Seattle Symphony. Composed, with subtle yet compelling phrasing and a dry wit, DeLuca wove through the concerto with incredible dynamic control in the first movement, astonishingly long breaths in the slow second and grace in the third, holding the audience spellbound. After a messy opening, the orchestra supplied the usual impressive Sinfonietta playing: light, elegant and committed, with Chagnard holding them to a finely balanced volume. Yet the slowness of the adagio meant a rather turgid feel in the tuttis, and the third movement was serious rather than sparkling – a little disappointing.
But the drama came in full force for the symphony, with its famous repeated two-note opening melody. Vigorous tempi and sixteenth-note work, lovely slipping-away woodwind and a nice blend of linear direction and chiaroscuro from Chagnard made up the first movement; the second was full of tongue-in-cheek seriousness, while the Menuet’s sturm und drang contrasted with the Trio’s sweet violins and oboes. For the final allegro assai, the orchestra filled the theater with a big, round sound and precise spiccato, Chagnard keeping a tight rein and bringing out the entries with glee.
The Northwest Sinfonietta play next on March 10 (Seattle,) 11 (Tacoma) and 12 (Puyallup.) 253-383-5344, www.nwsinfonietta.org