Two concerts at one sitting characterized Friday's Circle Theatre event, running from 7 to 10 p.m. -- opening with the annual appearance of the Honor Orchestra of America, a collection of the best high school musicians from all over the country. They meet only here for only one week of rehearsing and concertizing. They performed two overtures and the final movement from Mahler's First symphony at a near astonishing level with Larry Livingston their mentor and conductor. Any orchestra whose strings play on pitch from start to finish may be equated to professionals. In one respect it's a shame this body of young musicians can't stay together while playing together. They would only get better.
The ISO took over at 8:10 after the approximately one hundred Honor Orchestra players were seated in the upper mezzanine, elevating the Circle audience total to about half a house. Guest conductor Andrey Boreyko, along with guest cellist Mark Kosower, opened with Richard Strauss' redoubtable tone poem Don Quixote--Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, Op. 35 (1897). And this just several weeks after the orchestra played Strauss' previous--and completely contrasting--tone poem Also Sprach Zarathrustra (1896) under its music director Krzysztof Urbański.
Consisting of an introduction, ten variations, and an epilogue, each one bridging into the next, Quixote had Boreyko steering his forces through the Don's many exploits, some imagined, with good precision at apropos tempos. When, in Variation 2, he and Sancho Panza encounter a bevy of sheep, the "bleating" trumpets seemed rather anemic as heard from the First Mezzanine. In like manner Variation 7--the ride through the air: The wind machine Strauss had made for this work also could barely be heard above the orchestral din. Musically speaking, the two variations suffered no great loss.
Kosower's cello work was largely quite splendid, his well centered tone underlay an occasionally nervous vibrato which, in fact, helped reveal the Don's demented character. The solo viola was also excellent in portraying the Don's "servant" Sancho Panza, as was the solo oboe portraying the Don's love, the beautiful Dulcinea (in realty only a stable girl).
After the break, Boreyko, with the occasional assistance of mezzo-soprano Barbara Rearick, played the suite from Manuel de Falla's ballet-pantomime El amor brujo (Love, the Magician). This includes the world famous "Ritual Fire Dance" and with apropos music explores the world of Spanish gypsy lovers. Rearick sang in only a few selections in a work dominated by the orchestra.
Once again Boreyko got precsion playing from his orchestra, with prominent trumpet work right on the money. Rearick vocalized excellently--when she could be heard. With an orchestra this prominent, the mezzo regustration has a hard time competing. Human hearing is most sensitive in the upper soprano range, such that most sopranos can easily out-sing any instrumental ensemble. I recommend the use of a guitar-style mike/amplifier/speaker for a mezzo singing in this Falla work. As well as in his more ambitious Three-cornered Hat, written some four years later.
Rounding out Boreyko's program was Four Dances (1952) from the ballet Estancias (1941) by Alberto Ginastera (1915-1983). Consisting of one soft, langurous dance (no. 2) and three breathtakingly loud ones, the group appeared to be played to a farthing. With thundering applause, so ended this late-Romantic/early Modern program. March 11