New World Symphony has a lackluster night in Baroque program

By David Fleshler

Rinaldo Alessandrini conducted the New World Symphony in a program of Baroque music Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre.

The Italian early-music specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini led the New World Symphony in an all-Baroque concert Saturday in Miami Beach, a program that showed the orchestra has room for improvement in interpreting this musical period.

Alessandrini is founder of the period-instrument ensemble Concerto Italiano, which has recorded many early operas and instrumental works. He chose a program intended to highlight Italian composers of the 18th century, both through their own works and through their influence on composers outside Italy. Among these were composers both familiar, such as Vivaldi and Handel, and obscure, such as Evaristo Felice dell’Abaco and Count Unico Wilhelm Wassenaer.

Brass, wind and percussion sections had the night off, as the orchestra consisted of strings, harpsichord, organ and theorbo, a long-necked lute that added a percussive bite to the evening’s performance.

Execution was uncharacteristically sloppy for this ensemble, with a lack of precision in quick movements and persistent intonation problems in the violins. One reason for this, clearly, was that these works called for a much smaller orchestra, with the number of musicians on the Lincoln Theatre’s stage ranging from a dozen to about 30, creating exposed textures that mercilessly revealed technical shortcomings.

The Italian violin virtuoso Pietro Locatelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major called for four soloists, two violinists, a violist and a cellist. While the soloists appeared to play their parts competently, they didn’t play out enough to be heard above the orchestra, and they received no help from Alessandrini, who allowed the solo parts to be buried beneath the weight of the ensemble. This is a Baroque concerto grosso, of course, not a heroic 19th century solo vehicle, but presumably Locatelli intended the solo parts to be heard.

Following the fashion of many smaller ensembles these days, the members of the orchestra played standing (except for those, such as cellos and keyboard players, whose work required a chair). They generally played without vibrato and made a creditable attempt to achieve an early-music tone. But movements such as the Allegro of Francesco Durante’s Concerto Secondo in G Minor simply didn’t have the accuracy that listeners have come to expect in this sort of music, with the orchestra creating a fuzzy haze of sound instead of the sharp, pointed playing that would bring off the piece. And as in most of the works that evening, violin playing was persistently out of tune.

Alessandrini deserves credit for allowing the audience to sample the more obscure composers. He shaped and phrased these works with style, bringing order and drama to what can sound like progressions of familiar Baroque patterns. There were some interesting sections in ] these rarely heard compositions, such as the tension-filled suspensions of Georg Muffat’s Concerto Quarto in G Minor and the well-executed Allegro of dall’Abaco’s Concerto à Quattro da Chiesa.

But the inclusion of Handel’s imaginative, original Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op. 6, No. 4, demonstrated why his work is heard more frequently than, say, that of Count Wassenaer. The orchestra performed best in the Handel work. With about 30 musicians on stage and better music to play, they sounded more assured and any technical problems were less apparent.

The New World Symphony repeats the performance today at 2 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach.; 305- 673-3331.

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Sun Nov 21, 2010
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