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Chamber Orchestra succeeds with challenging program

MIT Chamber Orchestra
Steven McDonald, conductor.
Martin Kelly, tenor.
Gregory Warren G, french horn.
Kresge Auditorium, Oct. 31.

By Joshua Andresen
Staff Reporter

The MIT Chamber Orchestra performed a short but very enjoyable program on Saturday evening. The soloists were very strong and the strings blended well overall. If you like chamber music, this group is worth hearing.

The first piece performed was Benjamin Britten's Serenade, Op. 31. This is an impressive 20th-century piece for tenor, horn, and strings. It provides a series of musical settings for six poems, a Prologue, and an Epilogue. The singing of tenor Martin Kelly G was brilliant in its clarity and expression. Particularly impressive was his singing in the Dirge, a setting for a 15th-century poem with nine verses. The end of each verse ended on a note in the lower register which flowed into the upper voice range opening of the next verse. The first and last verses were vocal solos. Kelly performed this movement with stunning skill.

Warren was also very strong on horn. The Prologue and Epilogue are written for solo natural horn. This ancestor of the modern french horn had no valves, and Warren played without using those on his instrument, relying instead on embouchure to tune the intervals. He did a marvelous job, playing very proficiently in the high registers of the horn. On the whole, Warren also blended well with the orchestra. His performance in the Elegy stood out. Here the playing of the horn switches from open to stopped. Tone changes and other adjustments need to be made to consistently play in tune, and Warren succeeded with incredible skill.

If Warren had problems, it was with his stage presence. Part of the piece is written for muted horn, and Warren seemed to fumble in dealing efficiently with moving his mute. He also had awkward moments in removing the saliva from his horn, at one time doing so rather audibly in a rush before an entrance.

The second and final piece on the program was Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, written for strings and winds. This is not Schubert's most exciting symphony, although that did not prevent the group from delivering an enjoyable performance. The strings played very much in tune and achieved a very decent balance and tone. Of the winds, Elizabeth Smith '93 on flute and Cathy Cho '95 on oboe were particularly strong. The bassoon section was a bit weaker, and had problems playing in tune on the sections that highlighted the winds.

Conductor Steven McDonald was happy with the performance overall, and was especially pleased with how well the Britten, which he views as a very challenging piece for both soloists and ensemble, was played. He was also very happy at the audience turnout, which he said has been steadily increasing since last year.