It’s always a pleasure to watch the Northwest Sinfonietta, whose friendship and congenial collaboration is sparklingly evident in their music. On Saturday night at the Rialto Theater, though, the warm partnership wasn’t just confined to the orchestra: The two soloists for Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante were viola principal Heather Bentley and outgoing concertmaster Adam LaMotte on violin, and seeing them in the spotlight of their own orchestra was a delight.
The program riffed on the Mozart-Salieri rivalry – a real enough historical fact, as explained by director Christophe Chagnard, but not the murderous jealousy known to many from the 1984 movie “Amadeus.” What was obvious in the Rialto last Saturday (one of the ensemble’s usual three-concert series in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup) was that Antonio Salieri, though he had the prestigious court job, was in no way as memorable as his struggling younger colleague. The Sinfonietta played Salieri’s Sinfonia in D with as much elegance as they could, but like all the composer’s work it shows his distinct lack of more than a couple of musical ideas, and the effect was rather black-and-white, not helped by some harsh tone and messy entries from the first violins.
Opening with Salieri was a clever move, though, because after a mediocre composer you really appreciate Mozart’s gift for transforming predictable classical-era cadences and sequences into ineffable uniqueness. Through the Sinfonia Concertante, which is less a concerto than an ensemble piece with extended solos, the orchestra played strongly, balanced well by Chagnard to unveil the solo lines and with some nice work from horns, oboes and second violins. Adam LaMotte’s relentlessly romantic insistence was at odds with Heather Bentley’s more restrained viola playing (which could have used less light staccato and more lyrical bowing), but the two matched musically, exchanging ideas and phrases like dance partners. Particularly beautiful were the lengthy cadenzas, compelling and passionate, and the mournfully weaving second movement.
After intermission the scene changed abruptly to Tchaikovsky, whose Serenade for Strings saw a warm, passionate interpretation from the orchestra. The famous descending C-major scale opening melody spoke eloquently; the violas rocked their triplet runs; though the balance was too heavily weighted towards firsts and cellos. The Italian café waltz of the second movement danced along, Chagnard giving just enough melodrama to the slow-downs and pauses without being schmaltzy; and the third movement Élégie went from whispered entry to full, big sound, with a powerful cello section. As the piece surged to its emotional end the orchestra’s biting articulation and round string sound filled the theater in a ringing finish – a fine send-off for LaMotte, leading the group for the last time.
The next Northwest Sinfonietta concert will be Puccini opera arias on Feb. 10-12 in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup. 888-356-6040, www.northwestsinfonietta.org