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Music review: Sarasota Orchestra Chamber Concert: 'Brass to Bassoon'

Orchestra musicians break into smaller ensembles for 'Brass to Bassoon.'

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  • | 7:50 p.m. March 6, 2016
Fernando Traba
Fernando Traba
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Members of the Sarasota Orchestra, an impressive group with an impressive season, broke into smaller chamber ensembles Sunday, March 6, in Holley Hall, for what was a somewhat lackluster program that lacked not just inspiration, but also the spot-on intonation they’ve had as a larger group with a conductor.

The program, titled “Brass to Bassoon,” opened with a short fanfare for a lot of brass players from Paul Dukas’ ballet, “La Peri” (The Flower of Immortality). The two-minute work, featuring three trumpets, four horns, two trombones, a bass trombone and tuba, had an early 20th century sound and, for its briefness and what it had to say, was much ado about not much. It was here that the pitch problems began, and they never quite worked themselves out for the rest of the program.

John Cheetham, whose works have been commissioned by ensembles from Atlanta to the Air Force, had, in his piece, “A Brass Menagerie,” probably the most interesting work on the program. Performed by trumpeters Michael Dobrinsky and Gregory Knudsen, hornist Laurence Solowey, trombonist Brad Williams and tuba player Jay Hunsberger, it was at times rhythmic, colorful and martial. Leading the way with octave jumps was the tuba, giving the other instruments a solid, scale-wise bassline on which to build very tonal, sometimes intricate melodies and fascinating rhythms.

This brash, brassy, fun piece was played well by all concerned but, at best, could be looked at only as an interesting piece, rather than one that would hold together a concert program.

For that, we looked towards Debussy’s well-known Trio Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. Under normal circumstances, this would have been the palette-cleanser of the program but, for some reason, flutist Betsy Hudson Traba, violist Steven Laraia and harpist Cheryl Losey Feder, seemed as if they were each playing a different piece, and as a result, there was a lack of cohesiveness. The first movement had the most trouble, because the instruments weren’t in tune with each other. Things picked up a bit for the Interlude and Finale but, overall, it still lacked the blend and tonal unity needed to hold this piece together.

Vivaldi’s G Major Bassoon Concerto had its own pitch problems, primarily in the upper strings, but it had Fernando Traba as the soloist and his puckish way with his instrument, finally infused some personality into an otherwise ho-hum afternoon.

Playing with a good, solid sound and stylish ornaments, Traba seemed very at home with the Baroque style, taking some nice liberties with the tempos that, unfortunately, weren’t followed up by others in the ensemble, leaving the bassoon in one tempo and the other musicians in another.

Chamber music is very important to musicians because it gives them the opportunity to listen carefully to each other and learn to blend and meld with each other without the aid of a conductor. Perhaps this was a mid-season slump or the musicians were under-rehearsed for this program. One way or the other, it was not what we’ve grown to expect from these exceptional musicians.


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