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Conductor of Columbia Orchestra puts an emotional spin on Tchaikovsky's 5th


Jason Love, conductor of the Columbia Orchestra, is a musician who sticks to his interpretive guns.

He conducts a community orchestra that, while studded with talented players, is not really a full-blown professional ensemble, especially in the upper-string departments.

So when putting his troops through their paces in, say, Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, Love might well have selected a moderate, straight-ahead approach to round off some of the jagged technical edges a more individualized traversal of the score would reveal.

But at the orchestra's final concert of the season at Smith Theatre last weekend, he did nothing of the kind.

What Love gave us was a deliberate, meandering, highly personalized take on the work, full of ruminative stops to smell the roses and probe the thorny patches Tchaikovsky planted along the way to beautify and intensify his emotional terrain.

Such an approach can make for fitful listening for those who take their Tchaikovsky straight - classically poised, that is, with the deep emotions allowed to speak for themselves.

But the music can easily survive such a wayward conception if the musicians are up to the task, and the Columbians strove mightily to give their popular leader what he wanted.

While the violins clearly had some trouble conveying the breadth of line Love was after, enough interludes of distinguished music-making were included to make a case for this complex take on a symphony that is rather a bear to bring off.

The Columbia winds were in exceptionally good form.

The clarinets provided a suitably lugubrious opening to the first movement, and the principal bassoon sounded on task in the nasty chromatic solo Tchaikovsky tosses into the third movement waltz.

Best of all was Anne Ward, the principal French horn player, who sounded lovely and positively serene while negotiating the mine field of a solo Tchaikovsky crafted to begin his "Andante cantabile." How treacherous the solo, and how nicely it was played.

Inna Faliks, Ukrainian-born pianist, collaborated with the orchestra in Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," and she was a delight to hear in this extraordinarily adept set of 24 variations on the famous tune from Niccolo Paganini's 24th Caprice for unaccompanied violin.

Faliks found passion and playfulness in the early variations.

Her interjection of the "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath) Rachmaninoff appropriated from Christian chant was riveting, and she was so mellow while delivering the classical idiom's loveliest cocktail piano chords that I had to fight off the urge to order a gin and tonic right then and there.

Her 18th variation - the inversion of the Caprice that everyone knows - was warmly poetic and not slushy in the least.

Only when she tried to do too much to animate the proceedings single-handedly did the pianist get into trouble.

In matters of digital accuracy, as in life itself, less can often yield more.

The orchestra stayed with her admirably.

The fiddles had trouble getting the big theme of the 18th variation to fly, but there again was Ward to the rescue, accompanying the soloist beautifully in that most sumptuous of melodic interludes.

Saturday's program began with John Adams' hectic "Short Ride in a Fast Machine."

Once again, the orchestra proved that in the contemporary idiom, all you need is Love.

That, and some mighty focused measure counting.

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