Musicians miss mark in chamber concert

November 11, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

The Annapolis Symphony's annual chamber concerts have been problematic events for the orchestra in recent memory.

On nearly all occasions that the orchestra has reduced itself in size to tackle music from the baroque and classical eras, results have been decidedly mixed.

Why? Drilled most often as a full-sized symphonic unit, the players often sound downright uncomfortable in the intimate 18th-century repertoire.

Last Saturday's performance of the Second Orchestral Suite of Bach was a case in point. Despite the contribution of principal flutist Kristin Winter-Jones, who sprinted nimbly through Bach's flashy solo writing, there were real problems for the small ensemble that performed without the benefit of a conductor.

Messy attacks and tentative rhythms dotted the early movements, and there were scruffy moments from the violins in the concluding "Badinerie" as well.

Maryland Hall is not an acoustical garden spot for any music, but it is particularly inhospitable to a small orchestra. What little sound actually makes it past the stage has virtually no body and is poorly delineated. It was hard for Ms. Winter-Jones to make her points, muddled up as she was in the sound of the strings.

Far more convincing was a pleasantly vigorous account of Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony. One missed some of the warmth and nobility the middle movements can bring, but musical director Gisele Ben-Dor had her troops playing as though they really meant it, and the result was enjoyable Mozart.

Sibelius' mini-pot-boiler, "Valse Triste," was also accorded a suitably impassioned performance.

Hopes were high for a Mozart bassoon concerto, featuring the National Symphony Orchestra's principal bassoonist Kenneth Pasmanick and Ms. Ben-Dor, usually an adept accompanist from the podium.

Alas, what transpired was a turgid, geriatric run-through of this concerto, which bespeaks youthful high spirits and humor at every turn. Mozart tosses in little jokes everywhere, but these folks got not a one.

Slow tempos and uneventful solo work combined to turn this potential trip to the Fun House into a numbing slog through a dry-as-dust museum.

Anyone silly enough to suspect the fault might lie with Mozart is directed immediately to their nearest record store to pick up a copy of Sir Thomas Beecham's romp through this rollicking score with bassoonist Gwydion Brooke.

As long as I'm grumbling, surely it is time for the Annapolis Symphony to dispense with the wholly unnecessary flower deliveries to Ms. Ben-Dor and her soloists. Rote, gushy gestures like this quickly become meaningless. Surely in this age of fiscal austerity for the arts, the symphony can find something better to do with its money.

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