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LASO offers a fine evening of music

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By The Staff

If you missed the fall concert of the Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra, held in November in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, you missed a fine evening.The church is a favorite of performers and audiences alike for its warm surroundings and excellent acoustics. In addition to their accustomed orchestral pieces, we were treated to a rare appearance in town of two of Los Alamos' most celebrated classical music performers, Kay Newnam, violin; and Thomas O’Conner, oboe. With the orchestra they performed Bach’s “Concerto for Violin and Oboe.”But the opening was another Los Alamos gift, the world premier of local composer Ted Vives’ “Fanfare Diamante.” This thrilling piece featured the brass (Ted is a brass performer in his own right) but artfully mixed in the rest of the orchestra. It was one complicated rhythm after another as the orchestra “talked back and forth to itself” sometimes in classically contrapuntal passages. As a fanfare should be, it was foot-tapping and stirring (musicologists can find much more in it since it was based on classical forms). The program notes say it ended “with a distinctly inculpatory flourish.” Well, you know those program note writers.The second piece was the Bach with its very familiar themes both melodic and contrapuntal. The piece, however, seems to suffer from the fact that no original score of it survives. It has been “rewritten” from a transcription for two harpsichords. This re-transcription is unfortunate because it turns into more of a concerto for oboe with string accompaniment.The violin definitely plays “second fiddle” to the oboe, which gets most of the themes. In addition, Newnam’s violin, especially in the high register, was just not loud enough to bring to the audience (at least those in the back) the virtuoso playing that she could be seen doing. Also, when you play a piece everyone knows, you ought to get the tempo right. Unfortunately for this elder listener recent performers and conductors seem to love to play things faster and faster. This was the case for the first movement only, but when played too fast, the tone color is replaced by rhythm – lamentable. Didn’t Bach live in a more relaxed time? Regardless, the piece overall was a joy to hear and we’re lucky to have such amazing talent in our concerts.Following this it was the orchestra’s time to shine, which they did, in Tchaikovsky’s popular and flashy “Capriccio Italien.”This piece is known the world over, but to most it sounds more Hispanic than Italian. Perhaps there’s a place in southern Italy where they play such things? The resounding brass introduction served notice that this would be a commanding performance. There followed entrances of strings and woodwinds each impressive and sensitive. I’m told the otherwise wonderful English horn solo was marred by a sticking key not a performer mistake. Overall, the ensemble work of the strings and winds was truly impressive.However, one string entrance with the theme was marred by what plagues most amateur groups: that demon, intonation. In fact, throughout the concert good intonation seemed to come and go in different passages. A bass violin (there were three players) was particularly well played. This piece was a real tour-de-force for our hometown orchestra and happily they were up to it.After intermission the orchestra showed considerable courage in performing perhaps Beethoven’s best-known work, the towering “Fifth Symphony” with its fate-portending opening notes – three short and one long. Each of the four movements is a piece that can stand alone and that has its own stature. The orchestra understood this for the most part. However, they were clearly timid about the opening movement, which is incredibly demanding in its timing requiring perfect communication of the conductor to the orchestra – perhaps with another rehearsal? Again this elderly listener grew up with the nearly savage attacks of the Toscanini version and so felt this reading not aggressive enough to do justice to the dramatic nature of the piece. In this movement, however, the French horn section was outstanding. An interesting inventive solution to the loss of the bassoon player late in rehearsals was its substitution with a saxophone. Well, it wasn’t a bassoon, but it did very well, and thanks to Phil Tubsing for stepping into the breach.The cello introduction (there were only four players) in the second movement was nothing short of heavenly – such unison, such phrasing.The third movement might be called a small concerto for bass violins. One solo is so viciously fast that it was good the orchestra took the entire movement slower than usually performed to let the basses shine.The violas also did some worthy unison playing and the woodwinds were perfect. But, if there were slight imperfections in the first three movements, there were few in the finale. The orchestra knew what to do and played that joyous movement with verve and gusto. This enthusiasm might be the reason the brass played some of its sustained notes too loud for the strings (with the theme) to be adequately heard. Nevertheless this was a near perfect ending to a very enjoyable evening.If this reviewer had any advice for this fine orchestra, I’d say you need two more first violins and two more rehearsals. So you violinists, why not join us for future concerts? We need you, and you will be rewarded with wonderful things to play and nice people to play them with. Extra rehearsals are hard to get but well worth it – something to consider. Nevertheless, it was a fine evening. If you don’t usually come to LASO’s performances do yourself a favor and start doing so.LASO’s next appearance will be a joint concert with the Los Alamos Choral Society at 3 p.m. Jan. 27 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. The concert will feature the oratorio by Mendelssohn, “The Elijah.”