Sparkling ensemble work and some solid orchestral playing, especially from the higher strings, were displayed in abundance at the Arlington Symphony Orchestra concert Sunday afternoon at Bishop O'Connell High School.
The program was all mainline classics, beginning with a speedy but very clean overture to "The Marriage of Figaro." Conductor David Sz. Pollitt drew a warm but tightly controlled sound from the string section, making for two excellent results: The pungent commentary from the winds was made crystal clear, and the long crescendos were perfectly measured and quite exciting.
The Peabody Trio was the solo ensemble with the orchestra in Beethoven's Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello, "Triple Concerto" (Op. 56). The cello section began the work somewhat roughly and there was some fishing for the right tempo, but within a few measures everything settled down to a very fine performance level.
The strings of the trio, violinist Violaine Melancon and cellist Bonnie Thron, were so matched in tone and timbre -- bright, pleasant, even and just slightly on the thin side to contrast with the strings of the orchestra -- that it was hard to tell at times who was playing.
During the final movement, the polonaise "Ronda alla Polacca," they played fast-scale passages, starting low in the cello and ending high in the violin, that were perfectly seamless and seemed to come from one instrument. They relied strongly on visual cues, and watching them watch each other was part of the pleasure of the concert. To those of you who rely totally on records, here is an example of what you are missing.
The lingering and beautifully shaped cello solo in the largo was another high point.
Seth Knopp's acrobatic demeanor at the piano was disturbing, given the relative function of the piano part in the trio (it is less musically prominent than the solo string parts) and the importance of maintaining a tight ensemble. The sections of rippling accompaniment were well-enough played -- smooth with notes nicely connected -- but for all the visual contortions and audible foot-stomping, not much fire issued forth when required.
Pollitt was in top form. He held the orchestra together with quiet but firm gestures and a great deal of sensitivity to the soloists.
Pollitt's conducting technique, which relies on broad, strong beat patterns and requires careful attention from his players, worked well to shape the important string sections in Brahms's expansive Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (Op. 68). But it seemed to be harder for the brass and winds to come up to the same standard, and to come in accurately.
The performance was unusual for an orchestra of this level and size in that the strings played better (more together, more clearly and with tighter entrances) than the winds and brass. In the first movement, there were cases when the strings played a beautifully shaped phrase that then was repeated with much less sensitivity by the rest of the group.
Some tight, rhythmic material could have used more precise guidance from Pollitt -- for example, the offbeat string accompaniments in the third movement, and the last three full orchestra chords in the first movement.
Oboist Nancy Brown was outstanding in her solo lines in the first and second movements. There also was good playing from hornist Rich Hernandez and, except for a wavering final high note in his second movement solo, violinist Louis Wolcott.
A few details aside, Pollitt brought considerable intelligence to bear on the larger elements and shapes of the work, and it was an impressive, exciting and substantial performance.