New maestro takes charge

September 17, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They hired the right guy.

That message came through loud and clear at Maryland Hall Friday when Leslie Dunner conducted his first subscription concert since his appointment in the spring as director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Dunner conducted a pair of Brahms' firsts, the Symphony No. 1 in C minor and the sprawling Piano Concerto in D minor, the composer's first work in that genre.

The soloist was Peter Orth, a highly respected American who has collaborated with such conductors as Blomstedt, Slatkin, Dutoit and Mehta. He is a pianist of considerable power. Not since Rocky Balboa has a Philadelphian used his left hand to such devastating effect.

The new conductor is a judicious interpreter of Brahms, keeping things in proportion and never letting any aspect of a performance run away with the whole. He coaxed sustained sounds out of his players, but the clarity of those thick, Brahmsian textures was as impressive as their sonic opulence.

Tempos in both works were consistently broad, yet things moved ahead smartly with clear goals in sight. Big moments were suitably big but never out of control.

Dunner's body language might be graceful, even balletic, but he's no show horse. His gestures are tied purposefully to the music in an admirably self-effacing manner.

In short, he came off as a talented, well-prepared, take-charge guy who knew what he was doing.

Any disagreements with him were on matters of taste, not on fundamental issues of artistic substance. Dunner's accelerando out of the famous big theme in the last movement of the symphony bugged me because he made no attempt to work gradually into the tempo change over the course of a measure or two. Bang! He was off to the races. It seemed needlessly abrupt.

The concerto also began nervously, with some tentative orchestral playing and a few splats from the soloist.

Still, Mr. Orth was impressive. His tone, though big, is never edgy, and he plays with passion and joy. The slow movement was beautiful, and the Orth-Dunner combo had the finale chugging along with its Brahmsian gravity and grace working in tandem.

At times, the orchestra sounded small for Brahms, whose sweeping sonorities demand such a plump sound. The cellos were the prime offenders. They are short of players and in desperate need of leadership. They haven't been up to snuff since former principal Suzanne Orban departed a couple of years back.

Elsewhere, there was much to admire. Concertmaster Philip Spletzer's solo playing might have been a little hot for the delicate Allegretto of the symphony, but he is a gifted fiddler who adds much to the orchestra.

There was excellent work from the trombone section and from the solo flute, clarinet and horn. Also, principal oboist Fatma Daglar was terrific.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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