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Music Review

Pro Arte goes 'Hollywood' in homage to film scores

Soloist Elizabeth Pitcairn performed 'The Red Violin.' Soloist Elizabeth Pitcairn performed "The Red Violin."
Email|Print| Text size + By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / January 16, 2008

CAMBRIDGE - Is the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra a collective fan of "Alien"? "Bonfire of the Vanities"? "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective"? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" appeared in all three films, explaining why it opened Sunday's "Hooray for Hollywood" concert, guest conducted by Susan Davenny Wyner. This reviewer had to look up Mozart's presence on those soundtracks; perhaps the piece is so familiar that on the screen, it's relegated to unnoticed background music.

On its own, though, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" still pleasantly surprises with its elegance and invention. For this rather Romantic interpretation - large dynamic contrasts, flexible rhythms - Wyner's gestures imparted the shape of the phrase rather than the beat, almost choreographing an unspecified programmatic drama. In busier passages, Wyner seemed to fuss over the music like a mother bird, and tempos sometimes lagged; the Allegro finale could have used less exhortation and more coordination. But the "Romanza" had unusual, intriguing emotional heft.

Next was an absorbing rarity, selections from the legendary Bernard Herrmann's score to François Truffaut's 1966 screen version of "Fahrenheit 451," Wyner marshaling a vivid rendition. Perhaps in homage to the director's heritage, a French influence was palpable in the score, which periodically referenced Saint-Saëns and Ravel with brazen impunity. But like the best composers, Herrmann stole exceptionally well, the near-quotations deployed to expert dramatic effect. Herrmann's varied palette fascinates, exploiting all manner of string timbres, but in isolation - each movement its own monochromatic tone, as if the nostalgic melodies are filtered through an atrophied memory.

Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (which notably graced Oliver Stone's "Platoon") was a shade brisk, highlighting the work's sinuous lines at the expense of its gradually accumulating power. There followed a "Suite" fashioned by composer John Corigliano from his Oscar-winning score to "The Red Violin," with soloist Elizabeth Pitcairn, who, synergistically, plays the 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" Stradivarius, said to be the film's inspiration.

Skillfully channeling Paganini and Rachmaninov (with occasional modernist dashes of Lutoslawski), Corigliano's dramatic sense nearly sustains the 20-minute length, although the episodic nature eventually palls. Pitcairn's playing was curiously inconsistent: Expansive melodies harbored some slippery intonation, and at softer volumes the core of her tone often lost its vibrancy. But she dug in to more extroverted passages with energy and élan: The climactic "Gypsy Cadenza" showed vintage virtuoso flair, the sort the old studios would have thrown into a musical for a little class.

Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra

Susan Davenny Wyner, conductor; Elizabeth Pitcairn, violin

At: Sanders Theatre, Sunday

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