What a chamber orchestra loses by performing without a conductor is some degree of ensemble cohesion, as well as an outside ear to judge balances, phrasing and interpretive choices. What it gains is independence, and that can energize a democratically oriented group. The Boston-based conductor-less chamber orchestra known as A Far Cry, heard on Saturday night to close out the Dumbarton Concerts series in Georgetown, was founded only in 2007, but it has already made quite a mark.
The group played two classics of its repertoire, beginning with Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” a charming choice for a concert in a candlelit room. The musicians attacked it with crackling energy, and little details sprouted up everywhere, as here the violas, there the cellos brought out inner lines. The high-octane approach enlivened the sometimes spastic fast movements, even the menuetto, which was overly angular and quick, perhaps accounting for some sour intonation when a solo violinist took over some of the melodic lines in the trio. Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C had the same edge in the fast movements, exciting but a little overwrought, reaching a high point in the smoldering outer sections of the slow movement.
At the center of the program, however, were much greater successes, beginning with two tangos written by Astor Piazzolla for string orchestra. Here the group’s muscular sound was an asset, giving “Coral” a searing, soulful punch, with some fine violin solos from Omar Chen Guey in “Canyengue.” The group also gave an appealing local premiere of “Icarian Rhapsody,” a new work by the young American composer Mason Bates, in which sonic and rhythmic effects were piled up by minimalistic repetition until the voyage finally dissolved in a few wispy contrails of harmonics.
With this concert, Constance S. Zimmer, co-founder of Dumbarton Concerts, stepped down after 35 years as executive director, and the evening concluded with a heartfelt expression of gratitude to her.
Downey is a freelance writer.