Lustrous, vibrant, precise playing characterized the program by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena on Wednesday. But there were trade-offs in having violinist-director Iona Brown lead works by Corelli, Mozart, Bach and Dvorak from her first desk chair.
In Corelli's Concerto Grosso in D, Opus 6, No. 4, Brown and principal second violinist Ralph Morrison created a sense of intimate playfulness in their unison and echo passages, enhanced by matched phrasing though not matched colors or dynamics. Brown was vivid in fine-spun bright lines; Morrison more reticent in shaded tones. But the remainder of the ensemble sounded shadowy and faceless, and cellist Nils Oliver and harpsichordist Patricia Mabee proved self-effacing concertante cohorts.
Brown deferred as leader to soloist Richard Goode in Bach's Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Playing on a modern Steinway, Goode displayed an admirable evenness throughout the range, and creativity in exploring degrees of dynamic modeling. He exhibited integrity, strength and an unmannered approach; still, his was not a dramatic interpretation with hints of tragedy or conflict.
Probably the most satisfying playing overall came in Mozart's Divertimento for Strings in D, K. 136. Against hushed pulsing lower strings, Brown spun out refined lines, making inventive, witty use of dynamics and accent to create images of light and shade. The ensemble mirrored her, playing with silken unisons and silvery, butterfly lightness.
Even so, Brown's penchant for a limited, restrained dynamic range also made the work seem cool, deficient in charm, uncaressing to the ear.
Brown's dual role had the least successful results in Dvorak's Serenade in E for Strings. Here, for all the richly finished, finely-focused tone and unanimity of impulse, the work emerged as too sectional, controlled and lacking in freely-flowing lyricism. Ultimately it failed to convey a sense of warmth and intimacy.