Musicians add vigor to Russian selections

Review: Annapolis Symphony's concert of lesser-known works may leave audience members wanting more.

Howard Live

February 24, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last weekend's concerts by the Annapolis Symphony likely sent quite a few folks scurrying to the record store.

The off-the-beaten-path selections from Russia that made up the program were brought off with such brio and elan by conductor Leslie Dunner and his troops that listeners who had never heard them before were probably left wanting to know them better.

What extraordinary creativity and craftsmanship Tchaikovsky poured into his 3rd Suite. Essentially a mini-symphony, the suite has lyricism, melancholy and unaffected joy woven into its first three movements, and ends with the most stunning set of orchestral variations he ever set to paper.

His delightfully snooty opening melody is turned every which way but loose in the 12 ripping variations that follow. A woodwind choir, a Germanic chorale a la J. S. Bach, a quick violin concerto, a swirling polonaise; the single melody becomes all these things and more.

The musicians sang when they ought to have sung, soared when it was appropriate to soar and churned when Tchaikovsky called for them to stir the emotional pot.

Concertmaster Philip Spletzer came off sounding a bit overwrought in the concerto-like 10th variation and his intonation suffered as a result. Less might have yielded more.

The intonation gremlins also reared their heads in the chromaticism of the second movement, where the fiddles were less than unanimous in matters of pitch.

Leslie Dunner is surely the most balletic conductor the ASO has ever had. Yes, he is graceful to watch, but, more important, he conveys the inner choreography Tchaikovsky placed in the score to give it lift. Also stunning was the searing Prokofieff Sinfonia Concertante delivered by the orchestra and Julie Albers, a Colorado-born cellist who, at 17, is an emerging master of her instrument.

A de facto cello concerto despite its title, the piece is a long, thorny affair that can sink if its lyrical passages don't sing with Slavic passion and if its rhythmic punches are pulled even slightly.

It all sounded plenty convincing to me, with Albers flying around the fingerboard of her 1790 Ventapane cello with utter abandon in animated moments, and singing with haunting intensity in the meaty, highly emotional arias that dot the work.

From the orchestra, there was great ardor to the string playing in Movement I, and vividly characterized playing from all the woodwind principals in II.

The local band yielded prodigious results. One sonic quibble. The symphony is blessed with a strong complement of French horns. But from their perch way back on Maryland Hall's stage right, the horns' sound is beaten down before it gets to the audience.

Trombones and trumpets come out of the back row with their power intact. The horns, by contrast, sound like they're underwater. Risers? A change of venue? Some experimentation is in order.

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