Lakeview Orchestra makes a game showing from Bach to Brahms

Tue Apr 18, 2023 at 2:05 pm

By Graham Meyer

Eli Chen conducted the Lakeview Orchestra Sunday afternoon at the Athenaeum Center.

The Lakeview Orchestra may not be a professional ensemble but neither is it an amateurish one.

The North Side musicians proved their mettle in three contrasting pieces Sunday afternoon, sandwiching one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos between two Romantic works, Antonín Dvořák’s My Home Overture and Johannes Brahms’s orchestral bread-and-butter Symphony No. 1. 

The program note and advertising for the concert stressed the 600-pound-gorilla influence of Beethoven’s symphonies on Brahms, who famously labored for 20 years on his first symphony, feeling not only the weight of Beethoven but also the weight of expectations from the public and critics. Even though Brahms was a fully mature composer by the time of the symphony’s premiere, comfortable in his own sound, a Beethovenian fragrance does permeate the music.

The Lakeview Orchestra’s Brahms showed careful preparation, starting off strongly with the broad, round annunciation of C minor, amid pulsing timpani. The ensemble filled the hall and nailed the shifting harmonies, readying listeners for the journey ahead. The conductor, Eli Chen, coached the interplay between the winds and the strings deftly and leaned into the diminished-chord drama. 

The other side of the careful-preparation coin, however, was a narrower band of sound. Bolder contrasts in dynamics and articulation as the symphony moved forward would have added greater excitement to match the opening. 

The second movement could have started the strings with greater timbral contrast better suited to the slower tempo. The interpretation felt light—more appropriate to early, Classical-era Beethoven than the Romantic era of late Beethoven and Brahms.

Some three-against-two hemiolas in the third movement didn’t quite lock, and Chen’s unclear beat pattern didn’t seem to help. The first violins were persistently ragged in pitch, not just in the Brahms but throughout the concert. 

Still, the good overall outweighed the bad. When the fourth-movement melody arrived, the orchestra played it with reverence. The brass, especially the horns, the bane of many an amateur orchestra, played well throughout. The winds were exceptional, with several moving solos from oboist Ava Wirth and clarinetist Richard Zili. 

In the first half of the concert, the Dvořák overture sailed smoothly with the exposed opening, with unison strings and prominent horn, going off without a hitch. Chen built crescendos well and imbued the piece with a strong rhythmic drive that brought gusto to the orchestral tuttis.

Violinist Kate Carter and flutists Wendy Lin and Allie Deaver-Petchenik were soloists in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 4 on Sunday.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 followed, after a time-consuming stage reset to remove chairs so all but the cellists could stand and to bring in a harpsichord. During this time, Chen spoke to the audience about the Dvořák and the Bach, mostly repeating the information in the program notes. 

Brandenburg 4 has three featured soloists: two flutes here (often played on recorder), drawn from the orchestra’s ranks, and a violin, the latter played by guest soloist Kate Carter. The violinist also served as guest concertmaster for the Dvořák and the Brahms, a nice communitarian touch. 

In music where slips can really show through, the orchestral strings played quite well. Clean intonation and precise ensemble gave the piece the bewigged vibe of the best Bach outings. Only a few out-of-tune moments jumped out of the texture but the sense of smoothly operating clockwork drew the performers and the audience along.

Carter cruised through the difficult parts with impressive virtuosity, especially the third movement’s passage of flying notes. The flute soloists, Wendy Lin and Allie Deaver-Petchenik, created an equal pair, matching well in tone and dynamics.

Stephen Alltop guested on the harpsichord and played at his usual unimpeachable level. The tuning of the instrument, however, was very impeachable, possibly thrown off when it was moved into place for the Bach.

Small complaints aside, the concert was a success and it was a pleasure to spend an afternoon listening to people make music for the love of it.

The Lakeview Orchestra concludes its season 2 p.m. June 11 at the Athenaeum Center with a program of Copland, Mendelssohn and Henry Panion III, in partnership with Violins of Hope.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment