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Unfortunate performance by New Orchestra

[mk1]The New Orchestra of Boston, conducted by John Harbison, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, October 19; Hermann Prey in Die Winterreise, Jordan Hall, October 18; Westminster Cathedral Choir, Symphony Hall, October 20. Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.

David Epstein, conductor of the New Orchestra of Boston was unfortunately sick and unable to preside over Saturday's concert at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. John Harbison stepped in to replace him, and perhaps these disrupted circumstances were partly responsible for a performance which under normal conditions might have marred the orchestra's reputation.

Mozart's Divertimento in D, K. 136, is an elegant work, but the New Orchestra played it without polish. The ensemble sounded thin and uneven: there was a particular problem in the first violin section, a failure to play legato. While there were some superficially attractive moments in the Andante, there was a lack of cohesiveness, of continuity, of style: The movement was therefore of little interest. Matters did not improve for the Presto: Uncoordinated, the finale sounded clumsy.

Arthur Berger's Prelude, Aria and Waltz: Three Pieces for String Orchestra -- a parody on neo-classical themes -- was more enjoyable. The Orchestra brought out the bold lines of the Prelude, and there were some poetically introspective passages in the Aria -- including a nice viola solo by Eleftherios Eleftherakis. But there were also times when the legato was out of order, a problem which periodically threatened to emasculate the otherwise gripping Waltz.

Despite the thin-sounding tutti start to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271, attention was soon drawn to the involved performance of soloist Thomas Lorango. His was a deeply personal reading of Mozart endowed with a light and free-flowing spirit simultaneously extrovert and inward-turned. Lorango's playing drew to mind Vladimir Ashkenazy's performance of Mozart: a style that is both intimate and fresh.

The Andantino, too, was given a muddled orchestral opening; but Lorango answered with straightforward but quite beautiful piano playing: He drew complex emotions out of simplicity and directness and inspired the orchestra into at last responding with a soft, supportive legato. Although the orchestra displayed further patchy playing in the Rondo: Presto, they were more relaxed towards the conclusion, displaying some of the agility we would have wished for throughout the afternoon.

Hermann Prey is a master of the lied. Prey's voice has a singular beauty that demands attention and draws the listener in to Schubert's special world of enchantment. His rendition of Die Winterreise Friday night had global appeal: It had romance, poetry, pathos. The tears could be heard flowing in Gefrorne Tr"anen ("Frozen Tears"), there was a gentle -- but deep -- passion to Der Lindenbaum, further embellished by accompanist Leonard Hokanson's immaculate piano playing, a flowing sadness to Wasserflut ("Torrent"), signs of joy and hope in Fr"uhlingstraum (A Dream of Springtime), bitter -- but still beautiful -- crying-within during Der Wegweiser ("The Signpost"), a haunting transparency of voice for the concluding Der Leiermann ("The Organ-Grinder"): A moving evening to remember.

Sunday afternoon, the Westminster Cathedral Choir brought bliss to Symphony Hall. Their voices have a tranfixing purity, their glorious polyphony at once human and spiritually sublime. The program put the Choir's versatility on display: The first group -- of pieces by Whyte and Philips -- brought out a compelling clarity and directness. Bruckner's Ecce sacerdos was propelled by divine splendor. Pieces by Delius, Stanford and Elgar evoked many colors, and some quite amazing boy soprano solo singing. Howells' Motet on the Death of President Kennedy was touching, its lament leaving the audience rapt in thought.

Jonathan Richmond->