From Metropolitan Philharmonic: Risks and Some Rewards

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's a risk-taking 35th season for the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, whose redoubtable conductor, Ulysses S. James, is programming seldom-heard works alongside well-known ones. The resulting concerts are interestingly uneven.

On Sunday at Alexandria's Bishop Ireton High School, the most high-spirited playing came in a sort of pre-concert encore by the school's own percussion ensemble -- doing George Hamilton Green's "Charleston Capers" on xylophone, four marimbas, string bass and drum set.

The performance proper began with Symphony No. 1 by Adolphus Hailstork. Despite Haydnesque scoring, this work in no way resembles pseudo-Haydn of the 19th century (Weber) or the 20th (Prokofiev). There is a jazz-influenced opening Allegro, a broad-themed Lento reminiscent of Dvorak, a Scherzo featuring eerie strings, and a Rondo finale that repeats themes from earlier movements. Although well-played, the symphony had little emotional impact.

The first movement of Washington native Steven Gerber's Symphony No. 1 is built on a grander scale. The dark, portentous brass-and-viola opening leads to a main section featuring a 12-note ostinato punctuated by harp. It would be nice to hear the full work sometime.

Beethoven's Violin Concerto, the concert's standard-repertoire piece, got a straightforward reading, devoid of revelations if not of beauty. Soloist Elisabeth Adkins, the National Symphony Orchestra's associate concertmaster, played with sweet tone and mild vibrato, making soft passages very quiet indeed. The orchestra, especially the horns, seemed tired after the 20th-century works. The second movement's warmth was appealing, but the finale lacked playfulness.

The concert will be repeated Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington.

-- Mark J. Estren

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