A varied programme from a new chamber orchestra makes a strong impression on LAWRENCE BUDMEN

Over the past two decades Baroque performance scholarship has given performing artists and listeners new insight into period style. Such vanguard artists as Nicholas Harnencourt, Nicholas McGegan, and Christopher Hogwood have produced performances that are true musical revelations. (It should be noted that the British composer-conductor Constant Lambert was one of the first to investigate historically informed performance practices.) Harpsichordist- conductor Harry Bicket has noted that modern string players need to rethink musical phrasing as well as bowing. Between the pre-World War 2 efforts of Boyd Neel and today's Baroque specialists lies an artistic gulf. The recently formed Renaissance Chamber Orchestra demonstrated an impressive ability to synthesize the best of period instrument scholarship with traditional models of orchestral excellence in works by Handel and Vivaldi - part of a varied program on November 28, 2004 at Second Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. 

Handel's "Concerto Grosso in F Major," Opus 3, No.4 was characterized by vigorous, sprightly playing. The brilliance and precision of the 13 member string ensemble's performance was astonishing (especially for such a new group)! Violinist Joan Faigen's solos were particularly virtuosic. (Violinists Mei Mei Luo, Alexander Zhuk, and Yue Tang also played splendidly.) The Largo was embroidered with perfectly gauged Baroque filigree. Conductor Richard Fleischman led a sparkling version of Vivaldi's frequently played "Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins and Cello," Opus 3, No.10. Cellist Ian Maksin provided stalwart continuo support for the four intensely musical violin soloists - Ms. Luo, Ms. Faigen, Louis Fernandez, and Victoria Stepanenko. The final Allegro was particularly vivacious and idiomatic. A model of stylish Baroque performance (without any of the attendant mannerisms of some period instrument bands)! 

The "Melody in A Minor" by Astor Piazzolla (1931-1992) was a sultry, voluptuous Mediterranean vocalaise - played with lush, sweet toned ensemble by the Renaissance players. Fleischman's refreshingly unsentimental approach to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" paid musical dividends. The conductor's unusually taut, lean approach brought a lovely cantabile line to the music (rather than the all too familiar dirge like quality of many performances). Fleischman took an uninhibited approach to Bartok's "Romanian Folk Dances." The rich rubato and wild Gypsy tinge of the string players was intoxicating! Yet the performance was also subtle and musically intelligent. In response to the audience's enthusiastic ovation Fleischman repeated the final Magyar dance movement. 

Soprano Christina Lamberti is an alumnus of the San Francisco Opera Center training program. She created a considerable stir in West Coast musical circles when she replaced Carol Vaness as Elettra in the San Francisco Opera's production of Mozart's "Idomeneo." From the first tones of "L'altra notte in fondo al mare" from "Mefistofele" by Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) Ms. Lamberti revealed a lyrico-spinto soprano of size and depth. Her ringing high notes, exquisite pianissimos, and voluptuous voice brought the great Renata Tebaldi to mind! Her shaping of the vocal line was truly in the Grand Manner. Fleischman's accompaniment was rather stiff, lacking in Italianate warmth. He was much more successful in capturing the spirit of Verdi. Ms. Lamberti's performance of "Morro, ma prima in grazia" from "Un Ballo en Maschera" was exquisitely molded. Every note and phrase soared on the arc of Verdi's grand line. Ms. Lamberti has the potential to be a great Verdi soprano! Her version of "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" was pure golden toned, vocal velvet. With her extraordinary talents, a great career awaits Ms. Lamberti. This is the kind of soprano voice the operatic world has been praying for!

With superbly musical playing and stylistically informed leadership, the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra is a wonderful new symphonic chamber ensemble. Christina Lamberti is a major operatic talent. A stellar performance! 

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