Monday, October 10, 2005

Fairfax Symphony Orchestra

The chronically underfunded Fairfax Symphony Orchestra says it must raise $200,000 by year's end to complete the current season, its 49th. Its Saturday night concert at George Mason University's Center for the Arts showed what the Washington area would lose if the music stopped. But it also indicated why raising the money may be difficult: Regional orchestras deserve community support -- but the community deserves compelling reasons to support them.

The concert did not begin auspiciously. Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze" from Cantata No. 208 is so well-known that it is practically pop music, but that does not justify conductor William Hudson's turning it into elevator music, with romantic-era string tone and great swells of sound.

Sibelius's Violin Concerto began shakily. Soloist Judith Ingolfsson seemed to struggle with some first-movement bowings, missing or slurring occasional notes. The romantic, broadly sweeping passages were the most impressive. The second movement was choppy until Ingolfsson started to become really involved in the music halfway through. The finale, begun at a perilously fast tempo, sounded best, with the byplay between soloist and violas and cellos especially effective. Yet Ingolfsson never seemed at ease in this extremely difficult piece: She played it but did not interpret it.

Schumann's Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, however, showed the Fairfax Symphony at its best. With lush strings, great rhythmic vitality, warmth in slow passages and excellent string articulation in brisk ones, the performance had real conviction. But it remains to be seen whether 75-minute concerts like this are rewarding enough to generate adequate financial support.

-- Mark J. Estren

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Half the music played Friday by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra caught up its audience in Central European parody. Jacques Offenbach's operetta "Orpheus in the Underworld" partly spoofs the extravagant posturing of Parisian comic opera. Even in the overture, heard Friday, the composer couldn't hide the irreverent wit of his Rhineland heritage. Conductor Carlos Kalmar underlined these styles with athletic gestures, driving his musicians into the buffoonery of Offenbach's catchy score with all of its impudent vaudeville silliness (the cancan) and orgiastic excess (the bacchanal).

Likewise, Kalmar's version of a suite from Richard Strauss's opera "Der Rosenkavalier" drenched the concert hall at Strathmore Music Center with Viennese satire, served up with all the swooping waltzy pulse the composer calls for. The orchestral sound couldn't measure up to the Vienna Philharmonic's plush, concentrated tonal sweetness, but the audience loved the performance and demanded an encore.

The rest of the evening wasn't as satisfying. Ensemble in Mozart's "Linz" Symphony was not at its clearest, most noticeably in the strings. Yet Kalmar gave the fast movements a serenade's outdoorsy ambiance heightened by the orchestra's luminescent winds, and the Andante had ample courtly grace.

For the Prelude and "Liebestod" from Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde," the CityDance Ensemble valiantly tried to fill a tiny space in front of the orchestra with writhing energy. Sadly, the dancing proved merely a distraction from the mounting tension and ecstasy of orchestral sound. Even with singers, Wagner's music utters the unutterable and cannot be visually or literally spelled out.

-- Cecelia Porter

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