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MUSIC REVIEW

It's a Matter of Principals

October 27, 1998|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Given the ebb and flow in personnel that all small-budget groups contend with, it was not surprising to hear a few scrappy moments among the violins or some overbalancing by the lower strings during Mozart's Divertimento in F, K. 138, the opening work on the Mozart Classical Orchestra's program Sunday in Newport Beach.

After all, in a concert that featured the strings, almost half of the 20 string players were different than those listed in the printed roster.

The happy surprise was the degree of finesse that music director Ami Porat continues to elicit despite this potential stumbling block. Now in its 14th season, the group--previously known as the Mozart Camerata--flourishes with remarkable resiliency, which it showcased at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church through convincing and flavorful readings.

The primary orchestral vehicle was Mendelssohn's Sinfonia for Strings, No. 8, which the orchestra painted with bold strokes and absorbing portrayals of sectional voicing. The 1822 work gives testimony to its 13-year-old composer's lively inventiveness and his precocious understanding of then-current styles.

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In the Adagio, Mendelssohn explored darker colors by omitting the violins in his ensemble. Principal violist Zain Kahn led the elegiac mood in a rich-toned, thoughtful solo.

Principal members also stepped forward for two concertos: Domenico Dragonetti's Concerto for Contrabass, in A, and Concerto for Horn, No. 2, in D, attributed to Haydn. The first, written by one of the premier contrabass players of his time (1763-1846), proved to be a pedantic piece only a bassist's mother could love, despite its position as one of the cornerstones of the instrument's repertoire.

As protagonist, Norman Ludwin, who also arranged the innocuous accompaniment for string orchestra, demonstrated the technical capabilities of the usually supporting instrument, as well as the challenges involved in playing fast passages in tune.

Principal hornist Paul Stevens offered a finely detailed, elegant performance of Haydn's concerto, sailing over technical hurdles with an assurance marked by unfailing intonation and pristine ornamentation in all ranges.

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