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MUSIC REVIEW : Orchestra Shows Ensemble Mastery in Fifth Season-Opener

November 03, 1987|Chris Pasles

Conductor Micah Levy and the Orange County Chamber Orchestra opened their fifth season Sunday at Loyola Marymount University in Orange with a typically strong, individual concert profile. Levy followed the baroque with the modern, then leaped chronologically backward to end with a concerto. It all worked, as the orchestra demonstrated its increasing ensemble mastery.

From the seemingly inexhaustible treasure-house of the baroque musical era, Levy selected Johan Helmich Roman's relatively unfamiliar "Drottningholmsmusiquen" (Royal Wedding Music), a suite composed in 1744 for the wedding of Sweden's crown prince and the princess of Prussia.

The New Grove notes that Roman is called "the Swedish Handel." The similarities are especially apparent here, in those bright sections that suggest public utterances. One portion of the 12-part suite sounds as if Roman simply turned part of the score of Handel's "Water Music" upside down.

But the gentle, affecting air marked Lento is reason enough to hear the work. The orchestra played with clean, balanced, transparent textures, and Levy conducted with pointed phrasing and sense of purpose.

Levy's account of Britten's "Simple Symphony" was not at all simple, inclining toward the serious and away from the playful side. It was a worthy, weighty reading, with the strings making forceful attacks and otherwise proving equal to the extremely exposed demands of the piece.

More problematic was the performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, with soloist Helene Wickett. Both Wickett and Levy shared a Mozartean approach to this work, putting emphasis on fluency, lightness and grace. But Wickett failed to capitalize upon the fresh departures the young Beethoven made in terms of drama and personal poetry.

Part of the problem may have been her attempt to strike a happy balance between the sonority of a modern Steinway and an ensemble of only 24 members--not to mention the deadening acoustics of the hall. But the result was a not particularly individual or insightful interpretation, though her technique was sure, and some muted tones quite haunting.

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