Micah Levy led the Orange County Chamber Orchestra in a mixed program with decidedly uneven results Sunday afternoon at the Orange County campus of Loyola Marymount University in Orange.
In the super-dry acoustics of the university theater (in which there seems to be no reverberation whatsoever), music from the Baroque and early Classical periods could succeed if played brightly and crisply, which was the way Levy and his 20-member ensemble approached works by Boyce and Haydn.
In repertory that demanded a more lush and resonant tone, such as Dvorak's Serenade for Strings or Hovhaness' "Celestial Fantasy," Levy's post-intermission choices, the astringent results could prove unwelcome and wearying.
But the hall was not entirely to blame. The strings of the ensemble suffered recurring pitch problems and also seemed afflicted with an odd kind of inertia, slurring ensemble passages after starting them with unity and precision.
Further, Levy himself seemed to harbor few ideas about Dvorak's Serenade, which in the conductor's hands turned episodic, loose and shapeless. Levy relied upon flexibility in tempo and phrasing and indulged use of ritards but without conveying a clear sense of forward motion or structure. Altogether, it was a tentative and exploratory reading.
Hovhaness' "Celestial Fantasy," a short work in free counterpoint on an austere folk-tinged tune, seemed more mundane than luminous, though it was questionable whether the hard-working strings could create the requisite mystical aura in such a dry hall.
Fortunately, Levy also led a direct, lean and sprightly account of Haydn's Cello Concerto in C, with soloist Pamela Frame.
Despite some balance problems and less-than-ideal lyricism, Levy and company provided brisk, invigorating accompaniment.
For her part, Frame never seemed daunted by the fleet-finger challenges and could range from assertive to melting and affectionate phrasing, from warm to ethereal tone, although some of the work's charm eluded her.
Levy opened the program with a similarly buoyant, spirited account of Boyce's Symphony No. 1.