Classical Review: Raw Dawgs

A strong debut from an UW-bred ensemble.

Each of Seattle's wealth of community orchestras seems to have found, consciously or not, its own niche. Of the three most recent start-ups, the Puget Sound Symphony, in its 11th season under the direction of Microsoft program manager Alan Shen, is the golden retriever; boisterous and eager to be liked, it offers crowd-pleasing favorites. The Octava Chamber Orchestra, formed in 2007 and staffed by active local freelancers, focuses on strings-only pieces and contemporary works.The third and newest, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra (a bland name for an impressive group), looks as if it's intending to concentrate on bold performances of meat-and-potatoes classical and early-romantic works—a slice of the repertory the Seattle Symphony generally relegates to its "Mainly Mozart" series in favor of the larger, later pieces it can do better than anyone else. Conductor Geoffrey Larson and most of the players are UW students or alumni—from the sound of it, the cream of the music department—who can bring a fresh outlook to these standards. At its Saturday-night launch, the 29 musicians sounded as though they were having a great time with Bruch's catchy Violin Concerto no. 1 and two symphonies nicknamed for the cities they were composed for, Haydn's "London" (no. 104) and Mozart's "Prague" (no. 38).They're playing in Daniels Hall, the former First United Methodist Church at Fifth and Marion, repurposed as a sort of little brother to Town Hall. It's an extremely reverberant, "wet" space, which made it hard for this orchestra (as it would any orchestra) to achieve much definition in their playing. The wall-of-sound resonance was stirring and gorgeous; Daniels seems designed especially to make French horns sound fabulous. But clarity was a problem—not just due to the reverb, but because Larson, as a conductor, seems to be more a long-line guy than a detail guy. (Licks written dum-dum-ta-dummmm came out dum-dum-trdlummmm.)This was less of an issue in the "London," because Haydn often likes to set the whole band churning just for the sake of making a joyful noise anyway, and Larson and the ensemble brought these passages just the right excitement and punch. But the hall didn't do Mozart's airier textures any favors, with bass lines and sometimes even whole sections of the ensemble swallowed up. Solo instruments project gloriously, though, and in the Bruch soloist Andrew Sumitani's serenely elegant, showboating-free performance was beautifully balanced against the orchestra's pillowy richness.The SMCO's next concert has been announced for the spring; their Web site reveals no details beyond that.gborchert@seattleweekly.com

 
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