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Guest conductor leads Pro Arte in energetic performance

PRO ARTE CHAMBER

ORCHESTRA

Conducted by Carl St. Clair.

Works by Tchaikovsky, Haydn,

Swafford, and Ginastera.

Laurence Lesser, soloist.

Sanders Theater, November 12.

By BENNY WEINTRAUB

THE PRO ARTE CHAMBER Orchestra gave their second concert of the 1989-90 season on Sunday night at Harvard's Sanders Theater. Their performance was both exciting and memorable.

The excitement of the audience was due to the excitement of the players in the orchestra. Throughout the concert, the players seemed to be enjoying the music. Much of their excitement was no doubt due to the efforts of guest conductor Carl St. Clair. St. Clair is an assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, the Boston Symphony Youth Orchestra, and the Boston Pops. His happy and excited mood as he practically ran on and off the stage for bows was reflected in both the stellar performance of the orchestra and the positive reaction of the audience.

The highlight of the concert was Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra. Laurence Lesser, president of the New England Conservatory, substituted for the cello soloist Valter Despalj. Lesser's performance was polished and full of energy, and the ensemble did not suffer from the abrupt change in soloists.

The variations are based on an original Mozartean theme, and much of the orchestral part retains Mozart's clear, exposed style. The soloist, on the other hand, has to play some of the most difficult virtuoso passages in cello literature. Lesser's performance was both technically amazing and musically interesting. Especially notable was his beautiful pianissimo playing.

Also on Sunday night's program were Haydn's Symphony No. 49 ("La passione"), the Chamber Sinfonietta of Jan Swafford (a new work celebrating American Music Week), and Variaciones Concertantes, by Alberto Ginastera. St. Clair brought out the romantic qualities of the sturm und drang Haydn symphony. As for the Swafford -- it was modern but "cheerful," to quote the composer. Although the cheerfulness made the piece easier to listen to than some other modern music, the work as a whole lacked a clear focus.

The finale of the concert, Ginastera's Variaciones Concertantes gave the section leaders a chance to shine. Each instrument had a solo in this piece. Most notable was the virtuoso clarinet solo in the first variation, performed excellently by Julie Vaverka. The excitement of both St. Clair and orchestra made this piece a success.

The Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra is a polished and professional group. In certain passages, it would have been nice to have an extra bass and cello, but overall the fine players, combined with the good acoustics of Sanders Theater, gave a rich sound. Other concerts in the orchestra's 1989-90 season will be led by principal guest conductor Gunther Schuller.