Gisele Ben-Dor said farewell in her own style to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra Saturday night with a diverse and well-executed program.

The highlight of the program was Antonin Dvorak's great cello concerto with soloist Ronald Thomas.

This dramatic work began with very brisk tempos, and it was clear from the outset that Ben-Dor took a direct, no-nonsense approach to the music. With his initial entry, Thomas coaxed a sweet, singing tone from his instrument. As the work progressed, I was continually impressed by the beauty of his playing.

Ben-Dor's ability to clarify the orchestral lines also was impressive. Many details that might be missed in the swell of orchestral sound were clarified, particularly at the end of the first movement.

The third movement began with an almost march-like tempo, which Ben-Dor ably sustained. In the transition before the final theme, Ben-Dor held back slightly before launching the players into the finale.

It was a wonderful effect and accentuated the dramatic nature of the portion that followed.

The concert began with Aaron Copland's "Danzon Cubano." From the opening percussion beats and rasps to the raucous and sudden finale, Ben-Dor displayed a real affinity for the music. The entrances of the individual instruments were clean and well-articulated, with particularly fine playing by the winds.

Throughout, Ben-Dor and the orchestra projected the sense of fun that has to be a component of music like this. And judging by its applause, the audience shared in the brash, Latin-inspired mood.

The concert's final work, Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, was more problematic. Although the conductor's concept was a sound one, the orchestra's ability to execute it varied. String work was consistently good, as was the playing of the brass section. But the wind soloists faltered at some key points. The first three movements were more well-behaved than inspired, as if the orchestra had not grasped the full measure of Bartok's intricacies.

In the fourth movement, entitled "Interrupted Intermezzo," the orchestra pulled off Bartok's wry musical joke with aplomb, playing beautifully during the intermezzo, then abruptly changing to raucous and dissonant during the "interruption," a parody of the theme from the first movement of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony. Ben-Dor moderated her tempos to let the irony have time to sink in.

The fifth movement, which begins with a brief fanfare and then takes off in a whirlwind of strings, was brilliant. Playing was of the highest caliber, and Ben-Dor's tight rein on the players turned moments that can sound rushed and haphazard into exemplars of orchestral precision.

It was a fitting send-off to the conductor who has brought the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra so far in six years.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad