GREEK CHAMBER ORCHESTRA PRESENTS ENTERTAINING MUSICAL EVENING

By Lawrence Budmen

The Hellenic Camerata, a chamber orchestra from Greece, presented a midsummer musicale on July 23, 2002 at the Hale Piano Yamaha Concert Hall. Like the famous concerts in New York by the Goldman Band, the program was not a serious, artistically challenging event but, rather, an evening of light musical entertainment that brought pleasure to an audience on a warm night.

Under the baton of guest conductor James Brooks-Bruzzese, the youthful 17 member string ensemble played with invigorating spirit and tonal warmth. Despite less than perfect orchestral playing and Brooks-Bruzzese's sometimes erratic conducting, there was a wonderful sense of giving and sharing in the music-making that permeated every score on the program.

The most impressive performance of the evening was the vibrant account of Vivaldi's "Sinfonia No. 3 in G Major", RV 149, Opus 4, which opened the program. This was lively, stylish Baroque playing. The concluding Allegro non troppo was delivered with vigor and Úlan, complete with harpsichord on the continuo part. Rossini's "Sonata No. 1 for Strings in G Major" is scintillating opera-buffa music. The musicians produced rich tonal hues but here Brooks-Bruzzese's beat tended to be pedantic. The music was bereft of its witty charm and zest.

Nikos Scalkottas' "Three Greek Dances" in the composer's chamber orchestra version proved to be a winning novelty. The music is based on Greek folk melodies with a touch of astringent 20th century harmonies. This chamber revision has a simplicity and charm that are missing from the overblown full orchestral treatment recorded by the Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. The score was given an idiomatic performance by the Hellenic Camerata musicians.

The "Carmen Fantasy for Flute and String Orchestra", arranged by Francois Borne from Bizet's operatic melodies, has graced many an outdoor band concert. The brilliant flute writing weaves variations on the Habanera and Gypsy Dance. This is a fun piece and a real audience rouser. Marilyn Maingart, principal flutist of Fort Lauderdale's Symphony of the Americas (of which Brooks-Bruzzese is artistic director), was a graceful, accomplished soloist in Borne's woodwind romp. If she lacks the tonal beauty and flexibility of Jean Pierre Rampal or James Galway, Ms. Maingart brought a charming stage presence and a winning way with the music to her performance. The Gallic piano obligatto was played with real elegance by Renee LaBonte.

Pablo Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen", Opus 20, is a virtuoso violin showpiece filled with every violinistic trick in the book. The young Greek violinist Christas Galileas, who studied at Julliard with Dorothy Delay, is less than a top rank virtuoso. Yet his flair and stage personality were appealing in a manner similar to the late semi-classical violinist Florian Zabach. He received an ovation from the audience.

As an encore, Brooks-Bruzzese led the Intermezzo from Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana". Despite an unusually rapid tempo, the warm string playing had a wonderful Italianate lyricism, aided by the bright, clear acoustics of the Hale auditorium. It was entertaining music for a summer evening.


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