The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra has been using its 2003/2004 concert season as a public auditioning process for music director candidates. The final finalist stepped onto the podium this week.
Ron Spigelman hails from Australia, though it was hard to pick up even a trace of an accent in his remarks to the audience Wednesday night at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. It was, however, very easy to discern his enthusiasm and eager-to-please manner, which was reflected not only in his introductions to the works on the program, but the program itself. Spigelman, currently associate conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, came up with an essentially sunny selection of music, all of it rich in melody.
Although he seemed to enjoy a smooth rapport with the ensemble in terms of expressive purpose, this was not the most cleanly executed showing the BCO has made lately, primarily due to inconsistencies of intonation and basic quality of sound among the violins. This proved most distracting in Dvorak's Serenade for Strings, which otherwise enjoyed fleet and sensitive attention.
Mozart's Prague Symphony also would have benefited from more cohesive violins and, in a few spots, firmer coordination from all onstage. Still, there was a good deal of the familiar BCO spirit in the delivery, a sense of musicians caught up in the beauty and imagination of the notes. Spigelman's tempos and concern for the shape and color of phrases suited Mozart nicely.
At the center of the evening was one of the most affecting works for guitar and orchestra, Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, named for the summer home of Spain's 18th-century kings. It's a milieu the concerto brilliantly conjures up with images of courtly dances - the outer movements represent elegance in motion. But the soul of the work, the famous Adagio, adds an element of nostalgia and loss to the picture. Here, a plaintive English horn solo provides an entry point into a wistful world where the guitar becomes a moody, haunting commentator.
The excellent soloist, Gustavo Them, reached an eloquent height in that Adagio, especially the extensive cadenza, drawing a subtle patina of colors from his discreetly miked guitar. He was no less responsive to the lighter portions of the work, producing abundant atmosphere, charm and poetry.
Spigelman offered the guitarist very supple support. He also drew poised playing from the ensemble, which effectively brought out the sensual textures of Rodrigo's orchestration (the violins managed plenty of tonal and technical control this time). Daniel Doescher delivered the English horn solo with admirable warmth; glowing contributions from Seth Low on the cello and David Bakkegard on the horn were among the other fine individual efforts.