Concert Review: MSO delivers with classical standards

Mei-Ann Chen likes to refer to the reliable concert standards as the "meat and potatoes" of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's programming.

Friday night's roundup of the killer B's works -- Bach, Beethoven and Brahms being featured -- was all about the crowd-pleasers, but with some new aspects to the mix.

The concert was the first in the MSO's Classic Accents series, which is a new name for the Chamber Music series of previous years. And it is in a new venue: the Weiner Theatre at the Hutchison School, which has about twice the space of the always sold-out Buckman Performing Arts Center at St. Mary's School where the concerts had been held before.

Presenting old favorites in a larger hall is a natural idea. The program was sure-fire, with the MSO starting with a conductor-less version of Bach's popular Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. As Maestro Chen said afterwards, it was a perfect opportunity to build the orchestra, having them do the piece without a leader at the podium which, after all, many of the members have been doing with Opus One already.

Chen then led the orchestra in an energetic version of Beethoven's "Creatures of Prometheus" Overture, followed by a splendid performance of Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn."

The latter is a particularly lovely work, and the MSO ably displayed the textures and nuances that suffuse the several parts of the composition.

The evening's finale was Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, and Chen -- who loves Beethoven as much as any conductor loves any composer -- did justice to the piece, nicely balancing the sections and evoking lovely work from the winds and brass.

The acoustics in Wiener Theatre were disappointing, however. There was a noticeable harshness to the sound, and the violins were particularly affected, as if the treble were turned up too high.

The orchestra, which has developed into such a solid sounding unit under Chen's baton in the last year, need not be undermined by less-than-stellar acoustics.

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