NSO, Annapolis Symphony cellists revel in concerto ANNE ARUNDEL DIVERSIONS

April 30, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Mstislav Rostropovich has taken more than a few critica shots during his tenure as music director of the National &L Symphony Orchestra, but no one doubts "Slava's" ability to recognize a first-class cellist when he hears one.

He is God's own gift to the instrument, after all.

Rostropovich's hiring wisdom was borne out Saturday evening when a pair of his NSO cellists, Steven Honigberg and David Teie, joined Gisele Ben-Dor and the Annapolis Symphony for a performance of David Ott's Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra. In conjunction with our local ensemble, they produced a stunning performance of one of the most engaging contemporary works in recent memory.

Ott, a 45-year-old American composer, has created a concerto that ingeniously exploits the cello's two greatest expressive gifts -- its matchless lyricism and primal musical energy.

The piece alternates between interludes of searching introspection in which the cello's lyrical qualities are employed to great effect, and segments of bristling intensity in which the soloists, in tandem, must fly across their fingerboards with reckless abandon. Melodic lines nearly always ascend, and the more athletic passages impart an almost balletic sense of lift as they come and go.

Since its completion in 1988, the concerto has been performed at 20 sets of concerts by 18 American orchestras, among them the ensembles of Chicago, San Diego and Milwaukee. It is richly worth all the attention.

Mr. Honigberg and Mr. Teie play the piece as though it has been written explicitly for them -- which, in fact, it was. Technically, both are beyond reproach and they explore Ott's musical terrain with a proprietary knowledge of its varied emotional contours.

Ms. Ben-Dor has proven to be an admirable accompanist during her ASO tenure, and that was certainly the case here. While Ott keeps the orchestra in a subordinate role throughout, the ASO did plenty with what it had and was supportive of the soloists' efforts.

Ms. Ben-Dor's account of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony was very much enjoyed. An autobiographical work in which the composer explores the themes of fate, personal tragedy and renewal, the great F-minor Symphony demands characterful musicianship. Saturday's reading was emotionally engaging and exceptionally well played.

Once Ms. Ben-Dor got the opening movement clicking, the results were dramatic. She summoned glossy, full sound from her horns and distinguished solo playing from all quarters. The final statement of Tchaikovsky's agitated waltz theme was searing.

The second movement was suitably melancholic and the good fun of the third was communicated vividly, pizzicato style. Ms. Ben-Dor made sure all the appropriate flags were flying in the triumphal finale.

Saturday's only disappointment was a sluggish, colorless Fifth Brandenburg Concerto of Bach that squandered the resources of the orchestra's concertmaster and principal flute. The harpsichord was virtually inaudible throughout, and a disastrously timed page turn brought the entire first movement cadenza to a brief but screeching halt.

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