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An ill conductor doesn't infect Pro Arte; Druian shines



Works by Mozart, Ives, and Schubert.

Conducted by Rafael Druian.

Sanders Theatre, February 12.

Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.



ONE WOULD THINK THAT with the illness of its principal conductor, a professional orchestra would be left nearly helpless. This was in fact the case with the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, whose musical director, Larry Hill, has been ill for several months. However, Pro Arte is a talented group which can easily attract the most accomplished of outside conductors, and this ability has lent added depth and diversity to their performances.

Sunday's concert was led by guest conductor Rafael Druian, a renowned violinist who has acted as concert master for the Dallas, Minnesota, and Cleveland Orchestras as well as for the New York Philharmonic. This is the second time he has conducted Pro Arte, and he clearly knows their idiosyncrasies and can work with them. Particularly in Mozart's Symphony No. 33 in B Flat, K. 319, Druian showed his enthusiasm and remarkable ability to bring out the absolute best in the orchestra.

The Mozart was perfectly balanced, the strings singing out and complementing the subdued horn lines. All four movements, especially the Andante moderato and the Menuetto and Trio showed an excellent sense of dynamics. Occasionally Pro Arte allowed this unified approach to get the best of them; sometimes it was difficult to discern the separate and specific melodies layered in the Finale (Allegro assai). Violins and violas were a little muddled and lacking in purpose, but the orchestra collected itself, by the end of the movement, finishing strongly with darkly colored runs on the cello and bass.

Unlike their nearly superlative Mozart, Pro Arte's rendition of Ives' Symphony No. 3, "The Camp Meeting" was more of a grab bag. Admittedly, the piece itself is a rather haphazard attempt to link some of the composer's favorite hymns with a musical picture of a New England town meeting, but Pro Arte is certainly capable of turning a merely good piece into a top-notch one. The Ives began with the same odd minor keys as Copland's Appalachian Spring (a piece of which I was constantly reminded as I listened) and deep, rich horns. At times, the horns and strings seemed to be at cross-purposes, but their conflicting melody lines were always resolved by Kathleen O'Donnell's marvelous flute playing. She and James A. Bulger, oboe, shared a passage over dim, muted violins that was both elegant and lovely. Yet the entire soothing effect was completely ruined by one distinctly out-of-tune trombone note, a harbinger of further problems in the second movement, "Children's Day." Technically, the movement was flawless, admirable since it clearly takes more effort to correctly and effectively interpret an impressionistic piece such as this than to interpret a much stricter, more rigid piece such as the Mozart. This time, the problem was not an out-of-tune trombone, but simply a too-loud one that delivered stiff, uninspired solos. Only Bulger's oboe, smooth as always, saved the movement.

"Communion," the last movement, seemed unfocused, although individual performances by the musicians were stellar. There was a fine, emotional cello solo from section leader George Seaman as well as Matthew Gordy's far-away "church bells" that turned out to be gigantic chimes set up in the Sanders Theatre foyer.

Fortunately, Pro Arte recovered for their third selection, Schubert's Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, a frenetic piece that showed off Druian's remarkable skills as a conductor. The Adagio molto must remain foreboding while still retaining a sense of delicacy, and Druian coaxed this out of the orchestra. The violins were poignant, but became more urgent and frustrated as the music progressed into different keys. The Andante, a much more soothing section after the freneticism of the previous one, featured chiming flutes and more of Bulger's spectacular oboe playing. Even the Menuetto and Trio, which forced Pro Arte to wed uneasy passages with no readily identifiable time signature to a traditional minuet was executed perfectly, giving the Schubert an overall sense of cohesiveness which the Ives obviously lacked.

It was not Pro Arte's greatest triumph; I have seen them give concerts which I believe rival those of large symphony orchestras, and this was not one of them. However, with the help of the extremely talented Rafael Druian, they still managed to deliver an enjoyable performance.