Into her fourth season at the helm of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Iona Brown seems to be staying on her original programming course, concentrating her attention mainly on the 18th Century.
Originally, Wednesday’s program at Ambassador Auditorium was to have included a peek into our century with Tippett’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Corelli” and a Stephen Hartke string orchestra version of a J. S. Bach fugue. Instead, good old unvarnished Bach in the form of two well-traveled violin concertos was substituted. So much for enterprise this time.
At first, some mild storm signals went up in the Vivaldi Concerto Grosso Opus 3, No. 11. Though the its straight-ahead performance had an adequate degree of rhythmic bounce, the orchestra sounded tentative, with some surprisingly ragged entrances, and Brown was sometimes a bit out of tune in her solos from the first violin chair.
Soloing in front of the group in the Bach Violin Concerto No. 2 in E, Brown did not actually hit her stride until the second movement, where the tuning problems fell away and her tone took on a more full-bodied texture. The orchestra, however, continued to sound as if it were merely going through the motions.
While Nathaniel Rosen hasn’t quite become the cello superstar that many predicted when he won the 1978 Tchaikovsky Competition, he certainly has grown as a musician since those publicity-mad days. In the Boccherini Cello Concerto in B-Flat--using the Friedrich Grutzmacher arrangement--he generated probing intensity, some rough-hewn ferocity of tone and a wider dynamic range in general than one remembered, despite some early unsteadiness.
Fully alert in the Boccherini, the orchestra could now provide a focused, lively accompaniment for Brown and concertmaster Ralph Morrison in the concluding Bach Concerto for Two Violins. Here the two soloists offered some contrasts in temperament--Brown more forthright and ever-so-slightly Romantic in approach; Morrison more reticent, with an attractively limpid tone.