The Prague Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble of 36 musicians who play without a conductor, made only a partly persuasive case for this kind of music-making Sunday afternoon at Whittier High School.
On their musical home turf--in Dvorak's "Czech" Suite--the musicians' range of expression was equal to that of any traditionally led ensemble.
But elsewhere--in works by Purcell, Rodrigo and Mozart--their expressive efforts fell short, proving recurringly tentative and even self-effacing, particularly in contributions from the lower strings.
Within these strictures, however, one must acknowledge that the ensemble mustered impressive cohesiveness, unanimity of attack and individual touches of color.
In the Suite No. 1 from Purcell's "The Gordian Knot," the musicians opted for a dark-hued, long-lined approach that stressed wide dynamic shifts. Unfortunately, as they shifted into quieter dynamics, they also began to slacken the central impulse and tempo.
More attractively, the chamber-sized forces cast light, delicate hues over Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez"; but they were unable to make the composer's more full-blown statements soar. Soloist Lubomir Brabec favored an approach more inwardly lyrical than flashily rhythmic or colorful, yet even here he scanted individual interpretation of line.
Mozart's early Divertimento in F, K. 138, received warmth, clarity of texture and sweetness of tone, but expressive readings in the upper strings were not matched in the lower strings.
Dvorak's "Czech" Suite gave the players their best opportunities to display delicate, fresh colors, a sense of lyric sweep and buoyant rhythms--all contained in a well-proportioned sense of symphonic scope. The results were ravishing.
The Prague musicians offered a spirited, light account of the Overture to Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" as an encore.