By Don Heckman
Brentwood, CA. The final event in the 2014 Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s a la Carte performances took place last night in the grand residence of the Honorable Ulrike Ritzinger, Consul General of Austria in Los Angeles. As with all of LACO’s a la Carte events, it combined an intimate chamber music performance with a reception and dinner in the style of the host country – in this case, Austria.
Consul General Ritzinger deserves high praise for providing the welcoming environment and the perfect setting for an event that showcased works by such Austrian composers as Mozart, Haydn, Toch and Eisler. And so, too, were the LACO musicians – horn player Richard Todd, oboist Allan Vogel, violinist Jacqueline Brand, violist Robert Brophy and cellist Armen Ksajikian – equally praiseworthy for the high quality of their performances.
The program began with Haydn’s Divertimento for Horn, Violin and Cello. The most prominent element – several virtuosic passages for Horn – made significant demands upon Todd, who responded with impressive results.
The next two works – Ernest Toch’s Divertimento for Violin and Viola and Hanns Eisler’s Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H. For Violin, Viola and Cello – touched upon very different musical styles. Toch and Eisler were Austrians known for their skills as classical composers who also scored music for films in Europe and the U.S. Given the emotional orientation of both works, the strings deserve credit for bringing them to life beyond the film score aspects that snuck into many passages.
The highlight of the program, however, was the final piece, the Mozart Oboe Quartet. Instrumental concerti are only as good as a composer’s familiarity with the solo instrument. And Mozart was especially familiar with piano and violin. But his handling of the oboe, with all its unique characteristics was extraordinary in the Quartet.
Add to that the fact that the performance of a concerto is only as good as the ability of the soloist. And Allen Vogel wasn’t simply good; he was brilliant. Ranging across the instrument’s complete spectrum, he was stunningly virtuosic wherever virtuosity was required. And he was equally lyrical wherever one of Mozart’s memorable melodies flowed through the floating sounds of the strings. Call it a masterful performance by Vogel of a Mozart classic.
Interestingly, while having a cocktail with Consul Ritzinger after the performance she jokingly noted that – as much as she loved Mozart’s music – she had heard a lot of it, as did most Austrians. And I laughed and responded that, as a non-Austrian, I had a lot of Mozart to go before I’d even come close to having heard enough, especially as played by the dedicated artists of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.