Youth orchestra flexible, expressive

Performance: The young musicians acquit themselves well in the Spring Gala Concert.


March 07, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Judging from the results of Friday evening's Spring Gala Concert presented by the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra, conductor David Choo is presiding over a flexible and expressive ensemble.

Taking center stage at this Maryland Hall program of works by Saint-Saens, Grieg, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky was the string section, which delivered eloquent, emotionally engaged playing in challenging repertoire.

The flutes, oboes, clarinets and trumpets among the players, ages 8 to 18, acquitted themselves well in music notable for its diversity.

Camille Saint-Saens' "Marche Militaire Francaise" is spirited and ceremonial. A dark, noble sadness tinges the string writing in "The Death of Ase" from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, and Maurice Ravel's orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition marries 19th-century Russian piano music with flashy 20th-century instrumentation.

And is there a more sumptuous brand of Slavic romanticism than that found in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto?

Nothing sounds remotely like anything else, in short, yet the kids caught the fundamental character of each and every style.

The march was snappy.

In the Peer Gynt excerpt, the strings created a dark, sustained sound that did justice to the emotional intensity of the interlude.

Orchestral playing in the Tchaikovsky concerto, which featured the solo artistry of violinist Jose Cueto, the former concertmaster of the Annapolis Symphony, was loaded with character.

Principal flutist Emily Watkins brought the soloist out of his first movement cadenza with a wistful statement of the main theme.

First-stand clarinetist Phillip Martin captured a sense of melancholy in responses to the violinist's solo lines of the slow movement, and kudos to the string section for catching the playful quality so essential to the third movement.

Also commendable was the way Choo, his players and his high-quality soloist got this treacherous concerto to hang together so convincingly, despite the cuts made to shorten the work. Entrances were secure, expressive touches were brought off convincingly, and the collective energy never flagged.

Excessive excisions lessened the impact of Pictures at an Exhibition. The more animated sections of Mussorgsky's musical art tour were left out in this truncated version, which left the interludes that were performed sounding pretty much the same.

The recurring trumpet "Promenade," though well-played, wound up leading us to too many blank spots on the museum wall.

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