Chamber Orchestra offers expressive 'Brandenburg'

Posted: October 01, 2002

If encountering Bach is like going home, Ignat Solzhenitsyn and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia made it an especially warm and expressive visit with the complete Brandenburg Concertos Sunday afternoon.

These works are familiar even to anyone who has never stepped foot in a concert hall through their use in FM-radio theme songs, movies, and European-car commercials. For some reason, too, they've come to be associated with the holidays, and so it seemed apt to hear them for what turned out to be the first performance in the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater after construction of the hall was completed.

Musicians might need a few months to get used to the completed setting, though on first hearing the acoustics did not seem much different from the intimate sound we heard last season. The Chamber Orchestra uses the small side of the rotating stage, and the room adequately handled the sounds of combinations ranging from seven instruments to full ensemble.

With lots of guest soloists and Solzhenitsyn conducting from the harpsichord, the performance took the position that Bach can withstand some expressivity. Whether as a full ensemble, or in the solo spotlights that are everywhere, the musicians took convincing freedoms with their tempos. Strings used vibrato.

And no one gave in to the temptation to be a hero. Trumpeter Barbara Sauer Prugh, in the Concerto No. 2, related to the full texture by floating sweetly above it. Hornists Gabriel Kovach and Karen McCommon used rare sensitivity in not overshadowing their oboe colleagues in Concerto No. 1.

Solzhenitsyn was not only a skilled ensemble maker. He was an impressive harpsichordist, traveling in one cadenza nearly at the speed of Liszt.

Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.

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