Peter Leonard, music director of the Shreveport Symphony, got the call shortly before midnight Monday. Asked if he could stand in and conduct the West German Sinfonia at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater with less than 24 hours' notice and only two hours of rehearsal time, Leonard responded with an evening of polished performances. How did he do it? Leonard said, "It was the Beethoven that brought us together." He could have added, "and the Mozart and the Schubert."
The West German Sinfonia, making its Washington debut Tuesday night, is one of those magical small ensembles that has surfaced in recent years. Only 36 members strong -- less than half the size of a modern orchestra -- this group succeeds in sharing a musical intimacy that eludes the modern behemoths. Instead of hearing Beethoven, with the Sinfonia you sit next to him.
Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D, D. 200, was a lyrical tapestry made all the more appealing by the sparse, though hardly Spartan, coloristic hues. The Adagio was suitably majestic; the Allegretto, warmly effusive; and the Presto, a welter of sound propelled by timpani and strings.
Leonard had never conducted the Sinfonia before, and until two hours previously Gary Schocker, soloist in the Mozart Flute Concerto No. 1 in G, K. 313, had never played with it either. The program notes describing Schocker as "one of the finest artists of his generation" were utter nonsense. Based on this performance, Schocker is one of the best -- period.
True there were moments in the Allegro Maestoso when the Sinfonia overshadowed his lines, but from the very first cadenza (written or improvised himself) Schocker dazzled as few artists can. The cadenzas were an elegant torrent of sound, the ensemble playing was superb and Schocker's technique, sheer wizardry.
The Sinfonia's reading of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36, was a perfect end to a splendid evening. No one can doubt that the musicians had as much fun as the audience. All one had to do was see the smiles on the faces of the ensemble during the Larghetto and closing Allegro Molto.