It wasn't exactly the "Teddy Bears' Picnic," but there was an "Out of the Woods" theme for the Chapel Hill Philharmonia's latest offering, presented in Hill Hall on a brisk Sunday evening, and the fact that the orchestra began with the lovely prelude to Hansel and Gretel gave the concert a loose link to the holiday season, in a manner of speaking, too.
The ensemble has grown apace – in size and in technical prowess and artistic sensibility, too – since its early years as the Village Orchestra of Chapel Hill, which gave open public rehearsals as opposed to more formally billed programs. By whatever name, this is Chapel Hill's community orchestra, and it's therefore good to be able to report that it fills the stage of the refurbished room known as Hill Hall, on this occasion numbering (in the printed roster) some 70 strings plus substantial wind, brass, and percussion players that push the head-count close to 100.
Although some of its brashness has been tamed, the room remains lively, and there were portions of this concert, featuring music by Humperdinck, Khachaturian, and Beethoven, that seemed a shade too big, bold, and – to tell the truth – brash for the surroundings. There were times, here and there during the program, when enthusiasm seemed to outstrip finesse. Some of this may have been matters of luck or timing: the introduction to the prelude was marred by some poor horn playing, reminding one that the composer might have done better to have begun with massed strings instead of this cold salvo from those historic purveyors of atmosphere. The rest of the piece fared better, and that's a good thing, because there are few more heart-warming scores in the Romantic literature – and because the opera itself seems never to have taken root here as it has clearly done in many other cultural centers.
Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite proved delightful from start to finish, partly because several sections are rarely heard. There were some attractive solo bits in this score, and the CHP's enthusiasm was evident in the lively passages and the more reflective ones, too. The famous "Galop" brought the first half of the program to a noisy close.
Part two was devoted to a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, one of the master's less frequently heard orchestral scores. Guest conductor Evan Feldman, whose reputation is based largely on his work with bands and symphonic winds, led this and the earlier pieces with a stylish podium manner. The CHP projected the music with considerable radiance, and the work was very warmly received.
These presentations were significantly enhanced by concertmaster Mark Furth's exemplary program notes.
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The orchestra's spring concerts will be on March 11 and May 6.