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CLASSICAL MUSIC

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There were pieces by Carlo Domeniconi, Roland Dyens, Sid Rabinovich, Antonio Ruiz-Pipo, Joaquin Rodrigo, Heitor Villa-Lobos (arrangement by Kavanagh) and the performer herself, all steeped in a ruminative Iberian idiom (even the Domeniconi adaptation of the Bach Chaconne from the D Minor Violin Partita) and all projecting, to a greater or lesser degree, an impression of improvisation.

The strengths of this program, however, also contributed to its weakness. This was all music conceived under the spell of the same Iberian muse. Each of the pieces was something to savor -- but then there was the next one, and the next -- and after two hours it felt like savory overload. It might have been a good idea to mix in a few works of some of the fine young composers who have sought their inspiration elsewhere.

The concert was part of the John E. Marlow Guitar Series.

-- Joan Reinthaler

National Philharmonic

If Saturday's National Philharmonic program at the Music Center at Strathmore didn't quite live up to its "Sonic Blockbusters" billing, it wasn't for a lack of fine orchestral playing. Indeed, it's remarkable how an orchestra that performs little more than a dozen concerts a year can muster such a sweetly unanimous string tone and such sensitive ensemble work. The performance had its share of minor gaffes, but none distracted from the overall quality of playing.

Fine execution, though, couldn't compensate for an overly cautious reading of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." All the notes were there, but the foursquare adherence to downbeats and bar lines and a muted approach to dynamics sapped the piece of its seductive power. It's unclear whether guest conductor Miroslaw Blaszczyk chose a restrained classical approach, or whether more rehearsal was needed on balance and finish than on interpretive niceties.

Saint-Saens's "Organ" Symphony was a much more exciting affair. The orchestra phrased more freely, giving first-movement rhythms an arresting swagger and making something truly lovely of the wafting string melody in the Poco Adagio. If the temperature dropped a bit in the third movement, organist William Neil came to the rescue with a commanding, aurally engulfing treatment of the famous solo, crowned smartly by the orchestral ic brass. Now, that was a blockbuster.

-- Joe Banno


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