Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Chamber group delivers precision

By John K. Toedtman
Enquirer contributor

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra concert Sunday at Memorial Hall ran the gamut from Bach's orderly optimistic universe to the dissolving world of Josef Kost.

The concert began with Antonin Dvorak's "Serenade for Winds in D minor, op. 44." Actually, Dvorak's title is a bit inaccurate because the ensemble of four French horns, two bassoons, two clarinets, and two oboes was augmented by the fine playing of cellist Benjamin Karp and bassist Deborah Taylor.

The "Serenade" starts with a solemn march worthy of a procession for a Roman emperor. Beautiful solo oboe passages by Christopher Philpotts graced the first movement. In the third movement a clarinet solo by James Wise was buttery smooth and sonorous. The fourth movement was a sassy finale with syncopation and verve. A reprise of the solemn march from the first movement brings the piece to a close. Swiss conductor Mischa Santora was graceful and elegant, yet vigorous and inspiring on the podium.

Pianist Orion Weiss electrified the audience with his sizzling performance of the Bach Concerto No. 1 in D minor. There is an inherent tension and frenetic drive in this piece due to the syncopation and repeated rhythmic motives that the pianist used with great effect to bring the pot to a boil. The many parts of the piece that involve unison playing of piano and orchestra are often a pitfall for a good ensemble, but both pianist and conductor rose to the challenge. At one point overly loud trills in the right hand of the pianist obscured interesting melodic material in the left hand, but in all other respects the performance was stellar.

Weiss, 21, is a big talent with prospects for a big career, and most importantly, communicates his music to the listener with enthusiasm and musicianship.

After the intermission came the world premiere of a piece by the living Swiss composer Josef Kost, entitled "Dissolutions in Three Movements." At the end of the first movement. the pitch level climbs from a low cello tone to the high violins and then dissipates into nothingness. The bass has a long droning tone with sliding pitches above it. The second movement starts with a Spartan theme played by a triangle. Much of the second movement sounds like a murder-mystery as spooky string sounds abound. The third movement is perhaps a frantic chase after rationality that proves fruitless in the end.

It is difficult to evaluate contemporary music, especially on the first hearing. Some new compositions will stand the test of time and join our permanent orchestral repertoire, and some will not survive. For a piece of modern music to endure, it must possess more than sophisticated musical effects. There must be musical content and a message worthy of being heard. In time, audiences, not critics, should and will make this final judgment.

The Chamber Orchestra chamber orchestra completed its program with the delightful "Dances of Galanta" by Zoltan Kodaly. Composed in 1933, the dances are very rhapsodic and romantic and the Chamber Orchestra produced a wonderful full and lush sound.

Variety of music, precision in execution and beauty of sound combined to make for a beautiful afternoon respite from our troubled world.

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