The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Philadelphia Inquirer
By David Patrick Stearns
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The Philadelphia Inquirer David Patrick Stearns Column: Chamber Orchestra at the Perelman

Though Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia enriches the community with Beethoven performances that create a welcome lean counterpoint to the bigger orchestra across the Kimmel Center plaza, its main strength is maneuvering into repertoire not viable elsewhere.

The Monday concert, for one: Harp soloist Elizabeth Hainen projected all sorts of subtle coloring at the Perelman Theater that might not register so well in the larger Verizon Hall. French baroque composer Rameau was featured in dance suites that must be met on their own miniaturist terms to not sound trivial and to reveal their wonderful quirks.

In contrast to Simon Rattle, who champions Rameau’s more forward-looking works, Jeremie Rhorer, the Chamber Orchestra’s French guest conductor, tapped into worthwhile but less imposing music from Rameau’s first but later-revised lyric tragedy, Hippolyte et Aricie, in which the excerpted music acts as breathing space between intense operatic confrontations among characters of gravity. The second half ended with flashier dance music from the opera-ballet Les Indes Galantes, creating a spirited, colorful conclusion to a highly worthwhile concert.

In between came Boieldieu’s early-19th-century Harp Concerto in C major and Debussy’s Danses sacrees et profanes, and any fears the concerto would be some wisp of a thing trotted out for lack of anything better in the harp concerto repertoire were allayed by a piece full of alluring events. Hainen’s accuracy was only the starting point of a vividly characterized interpretation, full of articulate question-and-answer phrases plus a distinctive tint for each theme group. Being a Philadelphia Orchestra player, she projected a sense of ensemble particularly amid interplay with concertmaster Gloria Justen. In short, the performance had everything.

Ditto for the better-known Debussy, though Rhorer missed an opportunity to contrast how Debussy and Rameau, born 180 years apart, dramatized natural phenomena by taking their musical vocabularies to not-dissimilar extremes. It must be said, though, that Rhorer drew confident performances from players probably not familiar with Rameau. Though the string sound was a bit fat for this sound world, the clear-etched counterpoint from the basses was a constant reminder how great Rameau is.

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