One of Gisele Ben-Dor's most admirable attributes as a conductor is her skill as an accompanist. Many of the finest moments of recent Annapolis Symphony Orchestra seasons have occurred when distinguished soloists come to collaborate with her and her players.
The trend continued last Saturday evening as Ben-Dor and violinist Margaret Batjer combined to deliver a full-bodied, beautifully paced account of the Dvorak A-minor violin concerto at the Maryland Hall opening of the ASO's 1993-1994 concert season.
Ms. Batjer, an Ivan Galamian-trained graduate of the Curtis Institute is the real thing -- a communicative player with a beautiful tone, an ear for sensitive phrasing and the guts not to play it safe. The conviction of her playing allowed her tone to sing even in the barren wilderness of Maryland Hall's acoustics.
A meeting of musical minds took place between the soloist and conductor. Together, they demonstrated an admirable willingness to linger over and enjoy the work's many lyrical passages. What emerged was a reading of warm, honest sentimentality that never became mawkish.
Save for a few insecure moments in the dicier portions of the joyful Finale, Ms. Ben-Dor's players were on top of their game. The wind playing was particularly distinguished.
Ms. Ben-Dor also produced a Schumann "Spring" Symphony of considerable eloquence. Her deliberate pacing of the middle movements might have caused problems for the orchestra, but the players sustained their phrases admirably in the "Larghetto" and dug into the dramatic "Scherzo" with gutsy abandon. The conductor's expansive view of the piece was affirmed by her players.
Saturday's only disappointment was a perfunctory doffing of "The Three-Cornered Hat." Despite the charm of the music, the orchestra kept the selections from Manuel de Falla's most famous composition at arm's length without entertaining wholeheartedly their color or spirit.