Monday, March 11, 2002

Chamber orchestra's playing inspired

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sunday's concert by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra offered the kind of unique program that makes it a perfect complement to its bigger neighbor, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

        It didn't hurt that maestro Mischa Santora had two of the country's finest soloists on hand for Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Chamber Orchestra, for the centerpiece.

        The afternoon of inspired playing in Memorial Hall opened with a world premiere by a young Welsh-born composer, Huw Watkins, and ended with Mozart's charmingwind Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, K. 361, Gran partita.

        Britten composed his Serenade in 1943 for tenor Peter Pears and British horn virtuoso Dennis Brain. Few artists today could live up to its dazzling horn part or its penetrating tenor line so well as hornist David Jolley and the fine American tenor John Aler.

        Mr. Jolley performed the haunting “Prologue” and “Epilogue” alone, the horn's open tones sounding both powerful and primeval as he negotiated them with superb focus and color.

        There was something timeless, too, about the texts of the six other movements, each by a different author. Mr. Aler's lyric tenor was fresh and pure, and his interpretations were absorbing from the first note. The soloists communicated together with wonderful spontaneity. The “Nocturne,” with Mr. Jolley's horn calls set against dark string tremolos, was a picturesque dialogue; the “Dirge” was full of angst.

        The cheerful “Hymn” was a marked contrast, with Mr. Aler's wide-ranging vocal flourishes matched in brilliance by the horn. Mr. Aler made an exquisite diminuendo in the final words of “Sonnet” (text by Keats), which prepared Mr. Jolley's off-stage “Epilogue.”

        The orchestra, led by Mr. Santora, provided a seamless backdrop that was full of color.

        (Though Mr. Aler's enunciation was clear, the texts should have been provided for the audience.)

        “Commissioning new music is risky business,” announced Mr. Santora, as he introduced Mr. Watkins' Nocturne for Horn and Chamber Orchestra by demonstrating some of its music. That undoubtedly enhanced the experience for the audience of 449. Although atonal, its angular themes had a post-romantic cast; the orchestration for clarinets, strings and solo horn fit the nocturnal mood.

        Mr. Jolley tackled its difficult arpeggios, fanfare figures and wide-ranging cadenza fearlessly, and the orchestra provided a rich canvas.

        Mozart's Serenade No. 10, Gran partita, was the picture of well-blended tone, rich timbre and excellent ensemble. The thirteen players (including two bassett horns) captured its many moods persuasively, and Mr. Santora inspired crisp, ebullient playing.

        The concert repeats at 7:30 p.m. today, Greaves Hall, Northern Kentucky University. Tickets: $10. 723-1182.


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