The small and attractive auditorium on the Orange campus of Loyola Marymount University was the scene of the second matinee performance of the season by the Orange County Chamber Orchestra. If the Sunday afternoon event was hard to find, it was nonetheless worthwhile attending.
Not for the accomplishments of the ensemble, which are minor, but for its promise. Micah Levy, founder of this brave little band--on this occasion numbering 16 to 25 players--led a mixed program, one devoted in its first half to music for organ and strings, in its second to works by Frank Bridge and Schubert.
Levy's skills seem more administrative than conductorial at this point, though just one exposure may not be a fair gauge. He appeared this time around to have put together an able group of players and a viable program; further, he drew a sizable crowd of interested listeners to an oddball location (the orchestra also performs a Monday-night series at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa).
However, his conducting--vigorous but unsubtle, straightforward but primitive--did not bring out the fine points in the scores he chose. Rather, it elicited bumptious, unbalanced and sometimes-haphazard playing from players of obvious quality.
The pre-intermission, dominated wholly by the appearance of the distinguished U.S. organist, Frederick Swann--in recent years a working musician in our bailiwick--offered concerted works for organ and strings by Mozart, Handel and Poulenc.
Because Swann was clearly in charge, these performances, especially of the 1938 Concerto by Poulenc, had shape, a sense of direction and a modicum of style. Otherwise, conductor Levy, who often got behind, seemed disoriented and tended to let the readings fall into episodism.