Neglected Tchaikovsky has successful airing

The first three symphonies of Tchaikovsky are overshadowed by his blockbusters, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, but they are worthy pieces -- especially No. 1, titled "Winter Dreams."

Gisele Ben-Dor and her Annapolis Symphony Orchestra made a nice case for Tchaikovsky's First Saturday night at Maryland Hall.


The opening movements, "Reverie on a Winter Journey" and "Land of Gloom, Land of Mist," detail a rather bleak program but, as always in Tchaikovsky, there are enough spiky syncopations, waltzes, folk songs and good tunes to keep things from becoming too morbid.

During the orchestra's performance, one could have imagined a more wintry atmosphere, but what emerged was buoyant and energetic.


Much less satisfying was a joyless account of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto that left me scratching my head and wondering why I wasn't having a better time. Loren Kitt, principal clarinetist of the National Symphony Orchestra, is a highly qualified player and the chamber-scale ASO played dextrously and in tune.

But correctness is one thing. Evoking the sunshine and flair, the bittersweet memories and songfulness in this late Mozart work is something else again.

Despite his gorgeous, sustained pianissimo in the ravishing second movement, Mr. Kitt seemed rooted to the emotional periphery throughout while the orchestral accompaniment -- clipped phrase endings and all -- never got off the ground.

With Walter Piston's First Suite, I knew why I wasn't having such a great time; despite the orchestra's best intentions, it just isn't that much of a piece.