MONTPELIER — A U-32 alumnus returned to show himself a musician of unusual probity, and a local community orchestra proved unexpectedly able in both contemporary and Classical works. Music Director Anne Decker led the 38-member Montpelier Chamber Orchestra in its program, “Classically Now: Contemporary Connections to the Classical Period,” Saturday and Sunday at City Hall Arts Center (home of Lost Nation Theater).
At Sunday afternoon’s performance, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218, showcased Jesse Irons, a Berlin native who earned music degrees at Peabody Institute of Music and New England Conservatory before making a place for himself in the Boston professional music world. He has previously returned to central Vermont with the conductor-less chamber orchestra he cofounded.
Irons truly delivered the glory of this Mozart concerto in a performance that was light and elegant, but with emotional depth. Mozart violin concertos are notoriously difficult because of their simple lyricism — flaws are obvious — but those were few and far between. In the opening Allegro, he delivered the spirited lines with a sense of grandeur and joy; and he achieved the virtuosity of the final Rondeau with the same beauty and elegance.
However it was the slow movement, Andante cantabile, that underscored Irons’ musical depth. He not so much played, but sang this tender aria. All Mozart is operatic, and Irons caressed the line with his sensitive silky sound. It was simply exquisite.
Irons led the orchestra from the solo violin, and its players certainly rose to the occasion. Yes, there was some muddiness in the articulation of the strings, but there was never a lack of sensitivity to the solo violin. And they delivered with Irons the spirit and joy of Mozart.
It was interesting to hear the contrast between the Mozart and the largest work on the program, the Symphony No. 93 in D Major by Mozart’s friend Franz Joseph Haydn. Where the Mozart was light — texturally not musically — and elegant, the Haydn was full of the rugged drama that inspired Beethoven.
Decker led the MCO in a performance that was rich and inspired. Without violating its Classical lines — or perhaps because of them — it was dramatic and exciting. The grand opening Adagio moved into an Allegro assai, which the orchestra played with an amazingly light touch. The Largo cantabile moved from tender to dramatic, while the Menuetto was appropriately stately. And the final Presto was light, quick and airy. It was a truly fine performance.
The program opened with contemporary music, a specialty of Decker’s. Caroline Shaw’s 2014 “Entr’acte,” arranged for string orchestra for A Far Cry from the original 2011 string quartet, is a striking work that the MCO strings seemed to enjoy. Its mellow trajectory alternated between a “bed” of strings with various and sundry effects resulting in a sort of a storytelling intermezzo. It proved quite attractive.
Interestingly, City Hall Arts Center proved to have quite good acoustics for classical music. And the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra’s excellent performance certainly enjoyed them.