Maria Fisher, the boundlessly energetic president of the Beethoven Society, is something of a comedian. Rustling up to the microphone between every piece at yesterday's performance of the Beethoven Pops Orchestra, she brought to the afternoon some bubbly bite that was lacking in some of the music.
"We have just celebrated the 100th anniversary of--what was it?--Richard Wagner's birth or his death?" she said at one point with crusty insouciance. "Oh, it's his death," she said, getting laughs. "Sorry about that, dear old Dick."
Conductor Richard Weilenmann and orchestra, many of them members of the National Symphony, were under a bit of duress at the Capital Hilton. The Presidential Ballroom is no acoustical marvel, and the 40-odd musicians--playing for a smaller-than-usual crowd--had to drag their instruments and themselves through heavy slush.
Nevertheless, they gave a rousing reading to the Prelude to Act III from Wagner's "Lohengrin" and an appropriately schmaltzy one to Arthur Harris' "Americana Medley." But some of the time--in a program that also included Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor, a medley from "No, No, Nanette" and Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto--they still seemed to be dragging.
The tempo plodded in the Bach and the "Eljen a Magyar" polka by Johann Strauss sounded more like a march. The Beethoven, particularly, suffered from drill-sergeant-like conducting from Weilenmann, an annoying electrical buzz from the sound system and a crying baby in the audience.
Pianist Alma Petchersky, though blessed with a muscular technique, could make little musical headway--even though she occasionally overpowered the orchestra with her harsh-toned grand. An open microphone, placed next to the piano, seems to have been the major culprit.