Richard Bales, founder and longtime conductor of the National Gallery Orchestra, used to get away with performing Bruckner’s huge symphonies in the gallery’s Garden Courts because the reverberations made his small orchestra sound like a big one and because he really understood those particular acoustics. Thierry Fischer, who brought his Kioi Sinfonietta Tokyo there on Sunday for the last concert of the gallery’s month-long Cherry Blossom Music Festival, doesn’t have the benefit of that experience and it showed.
The program was an odd one for an undertaking that celebrates Japanese-American friendship — Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and his E-flat Major Piano Concerto No. 22 and the Beethoven 3rd Symphony, the “Eroica,” more a celebration of the orchestra than of either country. With a chamber-sized cohort of strings and, of necessity, the full complement of winds — which Fischer centered in the back (Bales used to place his winds off in the boonies, far to each side) — and with the hall’s acoustical distortions, balances were distinctly odd.
The winds, and particularly the flutes, dominated and, because the string sounds emerged only occasionally, the Mozart sounded sort of inside out. The martial personality of the Beethoven blossomed, however and, although what came out over the footlights (had there been footlights) was unusual, it was interesting.
Fischer is an active conductor. He likes to punch his entrances, but when his alert orchestra punched back, the result was sometimes crisp articulation but too often an unwanted accent. He also has a clear sense of the overall shape of the evolving landscape and, except for the lethargic pace of the fugue in the Beethoven slow movement, his tempos were excellent.
Yu Kosuge was an agile and muscular soloist in the concerto but her two cadenzas were over-the-top detours, the first an extended romp into Rachmaninoff territory and the second, a shorter but as pointed meandering into the land of Ravel. The orchestra recovered from both with aplomb.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.