Annapolis Symphony creates radiant sound


November 27, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If the Annapolis Symphony sounded like a different orchestra Saturday night at Maryland Hall, that's because it is a different ensemble from the one that bade farewell to Leslie Dunner last spring.

Principal flute Kim Valerio is back after a year playing second chair with the world-class St. Louis Symphony. Several new "acting principals" and "acting associate principals" dot the ranks, and an expanded, refurbished cello section is making an impact.

Also, former concertmaster Jose Cueto, an Annapolis Symphony Orchestra fixture in the late 1980s, assumed that same position in an "acting" role for last weekend's concerts.

The most significant change is the absence of music director Dunner (who has relocated to Chicago) and the rhythmically buoyant, almost balletic approach he brought to the repertoire. With him, the music was more about movement and rhythmic direction than about the sheer beauty of sound.

The aesthetic tables were turned a bit last weekend as the orchestra's first guest conductor in this season of transition came to Annapolis from the Philadelphia Orchestra, where unadulterated tonal luster has been a way of life for generations.

The visitor was Rossen Milanov, assistant conductor of the "Fabulous Philadelphians," who appears regularly there and in his native Bulgaria.

He brought to Annapolis an expansive, unhurried, expressive style possessed of admirable depth and an unabashedly sensual approach. And, because a program of Mendelssohn, Elgar and Rachmaninoff represents Romanticism at its most unabashedly sensual, we were witness to a most felicitous marriage of style and substance.

Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, a concert overture inspired by the nautical sentiments of the Romantic poet Johann von Goethe, was atmospheric to a fault, with a gorgeously sustained introduction sketching out a seascape soon to be animated by all manner of musical ripples and swells.

The account proved a bit more sedate than ideal, but there can be no quibbling with the radiant sound Milanov summoned from his players.

The truest glimpse into Milanov's musical imagination occurred in the Enigma Variations, Elgar's evocative musical portraits of 12 of his dearest friends and, ultimately, himself.

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