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Music Reviews : Orpheus Orchestra At Royce Hall

October 27, 1987|H. G.

The conductorless, New York-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra brought a richly varied and nourishing program to UCLA's Royce Hall on Sunday afternoon--and played it magnificently.

Four large-scale works, each for a different instrumental combination, were presented. To open, there was Haydn's Symphony No. 80, one of those terse, slow-burning and deceptively profound pieces by the composer that refuses to stick to one key (it is nominally in C minor) or to one mood.

Orpheus captured its vacillations in an appropriately tense, aggressive and clear-textured reading. It was Haydn with a cutting edge, and it was thrilling.

By way of the contrast, the peaceable pleasures of Mozart's Second Horn Concerto, K. 417, were suavely and charmingly projected, with William Purvis--an Orpheus stalwart for the last decade--sailing through the treacherous solo part with blithe, unassuming virtuosity.

Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony" for strings has, with the passage of time (and far too many encounters), come to seem more arch than merely disingenuous: music with a terminal case of the cutes. Orpheus compensated, after a fashion, with a reading of ominous grandeur. A big, vibrant sonority was employed throughout, with the pluckings of the "Playful Pizzicato" sounding anything but playful--more like pistol shots.

The one interpretive miscalculation on the program could be noted in the Britten: a tempo so measured for the waltz-like second theme of the "Sentimental Sarabande" movement that the melodic line went slack.

Dvorak's Serenade in D minor for Winds, Cello and Bass brought the program to a brilliant, festive close, its folksy measures played with an irresistible combination of spiritedness, sentiment and skill.

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