Relaxing baroque greets
the holiday season

Why is it that baroque music seems so appropriate to the holiday season? Perhaps it is because many carols share the harmonic language of the baroque, or perhaps the tinkling of the harpsichord recalls Christmas bells.

Celebrate the Season

Continues today at 4 p.m.
at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. Call 792-2000 for ticket information.

Whatever the reason, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra kicked off the holidays Friday evening with a program of Bach and Handel, complete with an appearance by Santa Claus.

The baroque orchestra was much smaller than the modern-day symphony orchestra, creating a performance-practice dilemma for conductors. If the modern orchestra is used, then the balance between strings and winds is different than the composer intended; if the orchestra of Bach and Handel is approximated, then most of the string players get the night off. Friday's performance featured a substantially reduced orchestra that was mostly very effective.

The concert opened with Bach's familiar "Suite No. 3 in D major," which includes the popular "Air on a G String." There were 29 string players used in this piece, which gave a rich, powerful sound but overbalanced the two oboes somewhat in the tutti sections.

Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 5" was played with just 18 orchestral string players, allowing the three soloists to be heard effortlessly.

Flutist Susan McGinn played her melodies with refined elegance, while violinist Ignace Jang swayed with rhythmic energy. Their contrapuntal interactions were precise and sensitive. The difficult harpsichord part was played with impressive dexterity by Joseph Pettit. He served as a firm foundation to the texture in continuo passages, and his long solo passage in the first movement ranged from a reflective opening to a dazzling conclusion.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Handel's equally popular "Suite No. 1 in F major" from "Water Music." This piece was written to be performed outdoors, so the composer gave prominent lines to the wind instruments, which carry better in the open air.

Hornists George Warnock and Michiko Singh, oboists Scott Janusch and Brian Greene and bassoonist Paul Barrett all played their difficult parts with panache and confidence.

The conductor was Edwin Outwater, resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. His batonless conducting technique worked well with such a small group of players, and he danced joyfully as he conducted.

The tempos were for the most part relaxed and solid, which is a welcome contrast to the frenetic pace taken by some recent conductors of baroque orchestral works.

A final word to those who have been looking for an added incentive to attend upcoming concerts: The symphony is offering a half-price sale on Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on tickets to select concerts for the rest of the year.

E. Douglas Bomberger is a professor of music at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.



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