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Chamber groups present stylish, if speedy, performance

| Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008

The continuing relevance of a composer who lived centuries ago, such as Antonio Vivaldi, is best demonstrated viscerally. That's what Andres Cardenes, the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra and Pittsburgh Camerata did Thursday night at a concert devoted to Vivaldi at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. It will be repeated Saturday night at Upper St. Clair High School.

The evening began in splendor when Cardenes led a spirited and stylish performance of "Gloria" in D major, the best known of the Vivaldi's three settings of this liturgical text. Oboe and trumpet added their brilliance to the emphatic performance of the opening chorus.

Pittsburgh Camerata is an excellent chamber choir, about two dozen singers strong, that performs its own series of concerts, which are smartly programmed and well worth attending. Although the camerata often performs a capella, without instruments, it was paired with an exceptionally robust instrumental ensemble for the "Gloria." Although Cardenes has minimal experience leading singers, he led an impressive performance with excellent tempi and some marvelous choral textures.

The vocal soloists were drawn from the choir and mostly good, even if there were problematic patches. The duet between soprano Joy Hess and mezzo-soprano Kate Clark in the "Laudamus te" was delightful.

The playing of the chamber orchestra was much more than generically crisp. Musical figures had personality, and the dynamics were considerate of the singers. Oboist James Gorton's lengthy solo to open "Domine Deus," the sixth of 12 movements, was breathtakingly beautiful, but a tough act to follow for Hess, who did sing with beauty. Anne Martindale Williams was another gratifying instrumental soloist, bringing real character to her prominent cello part.

After intermission, Cardenes was soloist and conductor in four violin concerti from a collection of 12 called "La Stravaganza" (The Extravagance). The performances were quite stylized, most of all by very fast tempi. In fact, speeding caused some technical problems for Cardenes and the ensemble.

The most interesting of the four pieces was the Concerto in D major, which began with only Cardenes playing. He flew through this solo line -- with character, not superficiality -- and was answered with equal virtuosity by lead second violinist Dennis O'Boyle.

When the performances went well, they were exciting, and the character of slow movements do change when they're not really slow. But the feeling of haste was pervasive, and not limited to the kind that results from slip-ups at high speed. Breaking the common sense speed limit in music rarely earns points.

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