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Music Review : Chamber Season Ends On Climactic Note

April 23, 1986|KENNETH HERMAN

LA JOLLA — At Monday night's Sherwood Hall concert by the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, the finale to its current season, the orchestra had a few things to crow about before music director Donald Barra ascended the podium.

The 500-seat house was again sold out, largely due to a subscription base that accounts for 60% of the hall's capacity. It's the sort of audience profile any local orchestra would give its eye teeth to claim. And the 1986-87 Sherwood Hall season, beginning Nov. 17, was announced, including a roster of first-class guest soloists: local piano prodigy Gustavo Romero, trumpeter Rolf Smedvig, violinist Jaime Laredo, and pianist Andre-Michel Schub.

If Barra's programming Monday was familiar and conservative--Bach, Mozart and Beethoven--his audience approved heartily of his choices. Guest pianist Eugene Istomin's assertive, masculine interpretation of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor easily captured the evening's musical laurels. Istomin played with great authority, not allowing so much as a single perfunctory note. His hard-edged textures, effusive cadenzas and wide dynamic range may not be everyone's ideal Mozart, but it was engaging playing nevertheless. Barra and the orchestra responded with an agitated and stormy accompaniment, stronger on enthusiasm than on finesse.

After getting off to a rambling start in the opening movement of Beethoven's First Symphony, Barra pulled his troops into a more cohesive ensemble, building a momentum that climaxed in an energetic and lilting finale. The symphony proved to be a showcase for the orchestra's superb woodwind sections. In the chamber orchestra's two seasons, Barra has demonstrated a marked affinity to Beethoven in his more tempestuous moods, and his conviction translated into a fluent performance.

Barra opened the program with J.S. Bach's Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, featuring the orchestra's concertmaster, Egor Groupman, and Vesna Groupman as soloists. Listening to their athletic attack on the piece--vigorous down-bows, heavy vibrato, emotion-oozing portamenti--was like stepping into a time warp, hearing a state-of-the-art recording made 30 years ago. Recent emigres, the Groupmans both studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where, evidently, the niceties of Baroque performance practice were considered to be signs of Western capitalist decadence.

Both Groupmans exhibited formidable technique and a lush sound, but they did Bach no favor by updating his concerto into a fantasy by Max Bruch.

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