LA JOLLA — If classical music buffs took a clue from environmentalists and catalogued endangered species, no doubt chamber orchestras would be close to the top of the list. Locally, such ensembles regularly appear and vanish, and those that survive seldom have the financial backing to produce the complete seasons touted in their glossy brochures.
The happy exception to this rule is Donald Barra's San Diego Chamber Orchestra, which Monday night played the third program in its series in Sherwood Hall at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. In their second season, Barra and company have combined fiscal stability, continuity of personnel and steady musical growth in their quest for a permanent niche in the community's cultural calendar.
On the podium, Barra is not much of a poet, but he keeps his troops in well-disciplined ranks. A rhythmically precise and animated reading of Gustav Holst's "St. Paul's Suite" opened the concert. Barra applied those same virtues to Saint-Saens' First Cello Concerto, featuring soloist Sharon Robinson. Such a pedestrian approach, however, put most of the interpretive responsibility on Robinson, who obliged with agreeable contrasts of energetic flourishes and elegant traceries. Her considerable technique absorbed the work's technical challenges with aplomb. The modest 35-piece orchestra was hard-pressed to supply the lush texture needed for a work of this scale, but Barra's winds distinguished themselves with deft and colorful counterpoint.