Pro Arte molto buonoThe Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, conducted by David Hoose, Sanders Theatre, November 24.
The Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston brought a very enjoyable performance to the many members of the MIT community who headed up river to hear this weekend's performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14.
The opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which has been used to sell everything from war to automobiles, contains the most famous sequence of notes in music history. But Pro Arte rushed them: they lacked the oomph I had hoped for. The relatively small size of this chamber orchestra was mostly to blame, not the skill of the musicians or conductor: The rhythmic energy of the exposition and development was unrelenting, even if not breathtaking.
Lively strings, gave the second movement great vitality. Conductor David Hoose delighted in the blending of the constant flow of transitions from each variation.
The opening exchange of the the third movement, between the cellos and violins was a bit sing-songy. But in the second half of this movement the orchestra woke up from the doldrums. The coda leading into the last movement was well done; the concluding Allegro was also played vigorously. If only the opening movement had possessed this power.
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14, Op. 135, consists of 11 songs for soprano and bass solists. All of the text deals with death. This morbid presentation, which is almost medieval in its dark and fearful intensty, seemed quite at home in the Sanders Theater.
The first two sections are works by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Baritone Sanford Sylvan seemed quite detached from his Russian lyrics in the opening poem, De Profundis.
A sudden, shocking staccato stroke by the double basses introduced Malague~na. Swirling strings created a shrill alarum. Violins and violas created a near-visual illusion of chaos. Soprano Beverly Morgan's voice complemented the musicians as they worked in unision to bring the poem to life.
In Lorelei, the staccato cellos punctuated by clamorous xylophone beats underscored the initial exchange of the singers. Sylvan performed much better when accompanying Morgan.
At the begining of The Suicide people started leaving the theater. This was probably not meant as an insult to the performers, rather, some people do not go for this type of music.
The percussion forces, with xylophones, drums, and clappers presented an almost jungle beat in On Watch.
In Madame Look Sylvan failed to give the impression of any sense of urgency. This section was also Morgan's weakest.
A dark bridge of strings led into the symphony's most profound setting, In Prison. This song contained many subtle themes; it is amazing that Shostakovich was able to develop such variety, and the orchestra could deliver so much effect, in a single work.
Brusque string downbows heralded in The Zaporozhian Cossacks Answer to the Sultan of Constaninople. Sylvan finally performed with conviction. Together with the orchestra Sylvan presented the royalty of the person depicted in the poem.
Elegant strings introduced the setting of O Delvig, Delvig. This section contains the most memorable lyrics of this song-symphony. The section ended with a sweet high voiced coda by the cellos.
Morgan's pinacle was reached in The Death of the Poet. The strings created a mood of austerity and anguish which seemed quite close to the composer's meaning.
The Conclusion was swift and concentrated. The bone-like rattle of the clappers reminded the audience of the fateful end of life and the end of this work. The strings rose to the peak of a crescendo; there then followed an eerie silence.
The Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra was quite ambitious to tackle such a diverse program in a single evening. Unfortunately such variety left many in the audience preferring one piece much more than the other. Too bad not everyone could enjoy both pieces.