For 130 years now, low-key and flying under the radar, the Friday Morning Music Club has been spreading the gospel of classical music to the Washington metropolitan area. In April alone, the club is sponsoring 26 activities ranging from free concerts in churches, museums and retirement homes to informal in-home chamber music sessions to student recitals to master classes. The musicians, many professionals, volunteer their services. There’s a chorus under its umbrella, several competitions and the Avanti Orchestra, which, assisted by the chorus, gave a concert on Sunday at the Northern Virginia Community College’s Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall in Alexandria.
The program pitted the exotic colors and shapes of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” Suite against excerpts from the solidly earthbound waltz-buffoonery of Johann Strauss II’s operetta “Die Fledermaus.” These two may have been strange bedfellows, but they challenged the orchestra on a number of fronts and, for the most part, the orchestra held its own.
Things took a while to settle down as the orchestra dug into the intricacies of the Rimsky-Korsakov, reacting just behind the beat and finding some ensemble difficulties in the fastest passages. But first-chair violinist Sandy Choi’s assured, sinuous solos seemed to calm everyone down, allowing the orchestra to focus on its most important task, color, and this it managed impressively.
The orchestra was joined by sopranos Natalie Conte and Abigail Mitchell, tenor David Wolff and the FMMC Chorus for eight scenes from “Die Fledermaus,” led by Avanti conductor Pablo Saelzer with a rhythmic restraint that gave only the slightest nod to rubatos. Conte as Rosalinde and Wolff in the dual roles of Alfred and Eisenstein gave workmanlike performances that sounded like hard work at times, but Mitchell sparkled as Adele the housemaid, singing with a lighthearted accuracy and joy that exuded personality.