Review: Chamber orchestra gives vivid performance of inventive program

Violinist Jean Huang performs with the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra, image by Jean Kirby Photography

CAPE COD TIMES – Call it a Williams family holiday for the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra.

Granted the Williamses in question – British composers Ralph Vaughan and Grace – weren’t actually family themselves. But Sunday’s string orchestra concert at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Harwich Port wasn’t actually a holiday program anyway.

Conducted with style by founder/director Matthew Scinto, the program featured mid-century British compositions – with a saucy dash of Vivaldi for fun. The lush music served as a fitting vehicle for the engaged, crisp playing from Scinto’s ensemble.

The CCCO basically employs four players each to a section, led by principals Jean Huang (concertmaster), Kiyoshi Hayashi (second violins), Sam Kelder (violas) and Timothy Paek (cellos). The principals not only soloed vividly when they had the chance – Huang plays with special flair – but anchored an attractive, unified sound from each section.

The program was well-suited to the orchestra’s strengths, and it played in penetrating manner that belies its intermittent concert schedule.

The two Williams pieces – Ralph Vaughan’s famous “Tallis Fantasy” and Grace’s 1944 “Sea Sketches” – worked particularly well.

Like the ocean, “Sea Sketches” ranges from hectic to placid to lyrically buoyant. Each of the five movements has its idiosyncratic virtues; most notable was a syncopated “High Winds” movement, swirling and active.


In Concert

What: Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra

When: performed Sunday afternoon

Where: Pilgrim Congregational Church, Harwich Port


Founding Music Director Matthew Scinto conducting Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra at its debut performance, 2018, by Jean Kirby Photography

Vaughan Williams’ fantasy on a 16th-century melody by Thomas Tallis remains innovative a century after its composition. Vaughan Williams imagined the string orchestra as an organ, creating small groups within the ensemble to mimic the organ’s divisions. At times the strings swelled majestically at full throttle; other times a simple line ran through the group in unison.

Scinto’s work on the podium was precise. He did not over-manage his ensemble, and it responded to his confidence with high-spirited playing. A cadence might have been misjudged at one point, and some bells the conductor was stashing at the podium (for the concert closing encore) made an unwanted entrance during Elgar’s irresistible “Serenade for Strings.” But those were trivial misses in an otherwise vivid presentation by gifted musicians and their dedicated leader.

The sold-out room testified to the CCCO’s successes in audience building during its first two seasons; here’s hoping for many more programs as coherent and inventive as this in the future.

The next CCCO performance will be Feb. 16 at Pilgrim Congregational Church, including music of composer-in-residence Cody Forrest. Visit capecodchamberorchestra.org or call 508-348-9202.

By Keith Powers

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