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Prague Chamber Orchestra 

PRAGUE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Established in 1951 with first-chair players from a bigger radio orchestra, the Prague Chamber Orchestra made its name specializing in works by Bohemian composers. It also tackled the Baroque repertoire, for which its modest size (36 musicians) and mellow, lyrical string playing seemed ideally suited. When the cold war ended the PCO found itself without state subsidy, but decided to forge ahead; in the past six years it's traveled the world as it was never able to do under communist rule, winning kudos for its precision and clarity. That's doubly impressive since the instrumentalists chose to proceed without a conductor. (In that respect, the PCO is very much in the mold of New York's Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.) In one notable exception, the orchestra recorded a number of Mozart symphonies under the guidance of Charles Mackerras; each a marvel of elegant articulation, they showed just how right a smaller outfit could be for Mozart's larger works. The orchestra first visited Chicago two seasons ago in a concert at Mandel Hall, and though it didn't attract a full house, those who came demanded encores. This week the PCO returns with a signature program that amounts to an obstacle course for a conductorless ensemble. The musicians will split into two groups for the cozy give-and-take of J.C. Bach's Symphony in E-flat, written for two orchestras. Then they'll embark on Shostakovich's Concerto no. 1 in C Minor for piano, trumpet, and orchestra, in which the unconventional partnership between the two soloists cannot withstand even the tiniest misstep in timing or balance. Fortunately, the PCO has enlisted two Russian-trained prodigies for this exercise. Valentina Lisitsa, who plays in a piano duo with her husband, Alexei Kuznetsoff, is no stranger to nimble synchronization; and 20-year-old trumpeter Sergei Nakariakov should know the concerto by heart, having performed it fluently in 1995 with Evgeny Kissin. Stravinsky's Concerto in D for strings and Mozart's Symphony no. 39 are also included. Saturday, 8 PM, Edman Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Washington and Franklin, Wheaton; 630-752-5010. Monday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068. Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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