The U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra seemed to gather strength and confidence as it worked its way through a program of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bizet at the Schlesinger Concert Hall on Sunday.
You would think that the Stravinsky Octet for Winds would be right up its alley but, instead of sharply honed incisiveness and a sense of alacrity, the musicians offered a reading with softened edges — nimble enough but without a feeling that they were sitting on the edges of their seats waiting to attack the next entrance. For some reason, the conductor, Maj. Jason Fertig, chose to conduct this without a baton, and the resulting generality in his beat was what his forces gave back to him.
Some of this was recouped in the Prokofiev D Major Violin Concerto No.1, in which, with baton in hand, Fertig had the orchestra producing magically shimmering textures and a much more inevitable sense of movement. The soloist was Gunnery Sgt. Erika Sato, a Julliard-trained violinist with considerable orchestral experience in the civilian world; she handled the music’s technical challenges with assurance. This is a piece, however, in which the balance between solo and orchestra keeps changing and, when the time comes, the violin needs to emerge from the crowd with subtle insistence. Sato struggled with this right from the start, drawing out a line that was lovely and legato enough but that never seemed to bloom as it rose, and I kept wishing for a more dramatic presence as the piece continued.
The concluding Bizet was terrific, as if the orchestra had been waiting for it all along and finally had something the musicians wanted to sink their teeth into.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.