Chamber orchestra charms

Candlelight concert a magical 'aural feast'

Amid the flickering of hundreds of candles, Lawrence Chamber Orchestra's annual "Baroque by Candlelight" concert conducted by Steven Elisha offered a "taster's choice" of favorite works by the "great heroes" of the Baroque era Saturday night at Trinity Episcopal Church.

The evening's theme was the conversational or "argumentative" nature of the Baroque chamber piece, in which all instruments take up motifs and pass them back and forth, amplifying them, "speaking" all at once in a cacophony of sound until everyone returns to the original theme, finishing as one voice. The compositional progression is dazzling, yet almost mathematical.

The familiar, energetic Bach "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3" launched the program. Although the piece never fails to please, it was not the orchestra's strongest number. Requiring strict adherence to tempo and crispness of sound, the performance had moments of fine clarity but also ones with muddiness in the lower strings and slight intonation problems in the upper ones.

Following the Bach was Vivaldi's "Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, Strings and Continuo in B-flat Major," featuring the Elaris Duo: Elisha on cello and his wife, Larisa Elisha, on violin. This bright, lively piece is seemingly less metronomic than the Bach but exhibits the same "argument" pattern. The concerto's fluidity and shifts from bright to mellow tones were admirably reflected in Steven Elisha's cello sound.

Vivaldi's "L'Inverno Concerto" or "Winter" from the "Four Seasons" rounded out the first half. The popularity of Vivaldi's seasonal concerti based on a series of sonnets might initially induce contempt, but "Winter" is always a thrilling ride. It is an aural portrait evoking winter wind and rain and wild elemental blasts of cold. Led by Larisa Elisha's violin solo, the strings produced some of the evening's most exciting moments. Elisha's playing was a dazzling display of virtuosic fingering, especially in the final movement's closing passages. In the Largo, the balance between the orchestra's pizzicato and Elisha's soaring tones was beautiful, and meticulous playing from Helen Hawley on the harpsichord added to the power of the Allegro's final frenetic moments. Although there were some dangerous tempo segments in which soloist and orchestra strained the bonds of togetherness, the number finished the evening's first half in fine style.

After an extended intermission featuring a plethora of fabulous desserts, the orchestra returned with a suite from Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas." Despite the orchestra's fine playing, the "conversation" seemed one-sided. That final instrument - the singer's voice - was needed to complete the effect, and the series of short dances and choruses lacked continuity. With "Dido's Lament," however, the orchestra did not disappoint. With concertmaster Chris Harnden as "vocalist" playing the solo line, the simple, heartrending tones of "When I Am Laid in Earth" were sensitive and touching.

Sammartini's "Sinfonia in C Major" closed the evening. In a transition to the classical symphony form, Sammartini experimented with the addition of different instruments, including horns, and the effect was startling, after having one's ears attuned to the voices of strings and harpsichord. However, the entire evening was an aural feast, spiced with the magical ambiance of candlelight.

Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at <a href="mailto:youngsl@ku.edu">youngsl@ku.edu</a>.

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