MUSIC REVIEW : Chamber Orchestra Players Liven ‘Brandenburg’ Concertos

If there was any negative artistic fallout from the recent announcement of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s fiscal problems, it was not reflected in the band’s playing of the six “Brandenburg” Concertos of J.S. Bach at Ambassador Auditorium on Thursday.

Whatever failings might have been detected could be attributed not to the instrumentalists but to the too-easygoing leadership of veteran conductor Helmuth Rilling.

For starters, it is difficult in this age of heightened stylistic awareness to respond to the sort of gently contoured, unincisive Bach espoused by Rilling. Nor is there much to be said in favor of using as large a body of strings as was employed for the Fourth Concerto, whose tutti sounded alternatingly thick and slick on this occasion.

The performances took wing, however, when the soloists, all members of the orchestra, were in charge, most hearteningly when focus was established by concertmaster Ralph Morrison, the orchestra’s linchpin and driving force.


Morrison’s energetic, stylishly inflected solo in No. 4, for instance, might have served as a lesson in pacing and shaping to any baton conductor.

And elsewhere during a long but engaging evening one could savor the fulfillment of the most important truism about the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: that it is at once a tightly knit ensemble and a gathering of gifted individuals, to wit, the superbly secure work of hornists Richard Todd and Steven Becknell in the second Trio of Concerto No. 1; the airborne flutes (although the woody timbre of Bach’s prescribed recorders would have been welcome) of David Shostac and Susan Greenberg in No. 4; the propulsive, sure-fingered execution by Patricia Mabee of the harpsichord cadenza in No. 5; the lithe interplay of violists Roland Kato and Laura Kuennen-Poper in the finale of No. 6; the grandly assertive oboe of Allan Vogel and the agile trumpet of David Washburn in No. 2.

LACO, as we’ve been told many times of late via the spoken and printed word, is a unique and priceless component of our artistic community. On Thursday, its most potent spokesmen, it musicians, showed us why.

The program will be repeated Sunday night at 7:30 at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.