Fifteen minutes before the Friday Morning Music Club Orchestra began to play on Monday, the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater had a near-capacity audience. A Washington cultural institution since World War II, the orchestra gradually evolved from a modest string ensemble, and now offers four or five free concerts yearly. The club also sponsors competitions and outreach programs throughout the area.
Appointed conductor only last month, Pablo Saelzer led the orchestra in a vigorous performance of repertoire staples: Sibelius's "Karelia" Overture, Grieg's Piano Concerto, Op. 16, and Brahms's Symphony No. 1. Chu-Fang Huang, the young soloist in the Grieg, has already chalked up a long list of awards and performances. Her playing Monday made it clear why: Her fingers flew over the keyboard, managing onrushing octaves and other technical hurdles with seeming ease. She unfolded lyrical passages with a fluid legato and tonal warmth, while she blazed through Grieg's more passionate forays with demonic, impetuous intensity.
The orchestra responded with fiery energy, if not always exactly at one with the piano. But the players showed increasing precision through the evening and, by the finale of the Brahms, entrances, ensemble and intonation no longer sounded problematic.
-- Cecilia Porter