March 7, 1997 in Features

Allegro’s Final Concert A Listening Pleasure

William Berry Correspondent

Allegro Tuesday, March 4, The Met

If you are going to steal tunes, steal from the best. This was the message relayed over the centuries by Allegro in the final concert of its Met series on Tuesday night.

The first half of the performance could not have existed if it weren’t for the early 19th-century practice of transcribing and arranging the popular melodies from hit operas to be played by instrumentalists. Following that tradition, guest artist William Davis provided enough material for the entire second half of the show with his new arrangement of music from Rossini’s “Cinderella.”

In a side-by-side comparison with filchers from the past, Davis’ work made the grade. He captured the style and feel of the transcription genre, as well as the spirit of the impassioned melodies and carefree virtuosity of Rossini.

It certainly helps to know who will be on the playing end of your writing, so writing for yourself does have an advantage. Also, Davis has worked with Allegro’s David Dutton and Beverly Biggs in the past, including performing and recording similar material for their “Parisian Nights” concert and CD.

Writing something and playing it are whole different ballgames, but Davis was as facile on the bassoon as he was on paper. Throughout the evening, his sound was comfortable, warm and relaxed no matter how frantic the part.

I happen to know that the bassoon has absolutely scads of keys, and therefore way more wrong places than right to have your fingers at any given time, but Davis’s outstanding control made passages with fast runs and arpeggios sound effortless. This was evident in his solo spot - Frederic Berr’s take on a cavatina from Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie.”

Dutton had an on-night as well, holding the oboe end of the conversation in “Cinderella.” Conversation is really what it sounded like in some of Rossini’s give-and-take comedy. You could almost imagine a scenario with some words when the bassoon took a line and the oboe snapped right back.

When listing the top 10 flashy instruments likely to stun the masses with pyrotechnics, one’s mind does not come to rest upon the English horn. It is loved for its melancholy work in general, but there are exceptions. Dutton used the mid-range double reed to good result in a Theme and Variations by Verroust on a cavatina from Bellini’s “Beatrice di Tenda.”

Biggs and the elegant fortepiano were the glue that held it all together. With the coloratura roles being played on winds, her graceful accompaniment was not given many moments to shine. She made up for it with the best delivery of a line I have heard in weeks while explaining when to clap on Davis’ piece. Biggs simply said, “It’s over when we stand up” - which brought the house down.

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