The Washington Post

At Castleton Festival, a take on 2 composers

Dmitri Berlinsky (Christian Steiner)

Somewhere in between the operas at the Castleton Festival, Lorin Maazel takes his Festival Orchestra out for a spin. At a concert on Saturday night in the Festival Theater, Maazel led his young musicians, most of them talented conservatory students, in a comparison of two 20th-century composers, whose careers showed that accomplishment and acclaim do not necessarily coincide.

The program opened with Samuel Barber’s overture to “The School for Scandal,” the comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was Barber’s first piece for orchestra, composed in 1931, when he was about the same age as most of Maazel’s players and still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music. This solid, fun performance captured the piece’s bubbly joy and its youthful brashness, with some pretty oboe and English horn solos for good measure.

Same goes for Barber’s ultra-sweet violin concerto, composed just a few years later, with an especially fine second movement, steeped in longing. Dmitri Berlinsky handled the solo part capably, in spite of a few intonation issues and occasional rawness of tone. The third movement, a manic perpetual motion tour de force, was a bit more jumbled than it perhaps should have been, but it held together.

For the second half, Maazel doubled down on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mediocre “Requiem,” a piece he premiered in 1985 to considerable critical derision. The work has not aged well, the style of its rock-infused “Hosanna” section having made the inexorable progression from pop radio to moth-eaten golden oldies.

It was bad enough performed fairly well back then, with its cobbled-together parrotings of Mahler, Puccini or Shostakovich, but the defects of this performance — warbling sopranos instead of child trebles, leaden chant-like sections, a sometimes insecure chorus (in the “Dies Irae,” in particular), wimpy canned organ sound — did it no favors.

Lorin Maazel (Bill Bernstein)

Downey is a freelance writer.

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