A couple of weeks ago, during a preliminary tour of Westminster College's new Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, I took the liberty of stepping to the stage and checking the reverberation - i.e., the amount of time it takes a sound issuing from the stage to decay in the auditorium.
"How is it?" another member of the group asked in the wake of my solitary hand clap. I told him I put it somewhere between 2 and 3 seconds. "And that . . . ?" he queried. "Should make it a little dry for music but just about right for speech," I answered.Well, there weren't any speeches this weekend, at least not during Sunday's concert by the Westminster Chamber Orchestra. But I am prepared to certify the first half of that prediction. It is a little dry, but overall it isn't bad.
And that was true from a variety of locations. Whether close up, a little more than halfway back or up against the rear wall - where it is, in fact, the driest - the sound was always alive, well-detailed and nicely dispersed, especially from side to side.
Certainly speakers - and by extension soloists - should have no problem projecting. Indeed the only problem some of us had Sunday was keeping warm, to the point where even some of the musicians stepped outside at intermission to take the chill off.
Inside, by contrast, Utah Symphony violinist John Thompson managed to bring both warmth and penetration to his account of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. His may not be the smoothest sound around, but its sweet-and-sour quality lent an attractive pungency to such things as the first-movement cadenza. Ditto the trills in the second movement, here unusually plaintive.
After a lumpy start, the orchestra under Jeff Manookian likewise turned in its best work of the afternoon, with some especially ardent climaxes. Only in the finale was one reminded that this is, by and large, a non-professional body, and that mostly in the brass. And for some reason even Thompson's playing seemed to lose a little sparkle here.
Earlier Manookian presided over a performance of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony whose generosity with repeats proved to be something of a mixed blessing in the scherzo and, to a lesser extent, the finale (where the horns in particular were really up against it).
Elsewhere, though, the introduction to the first movement had a welcome vibrancy, even if the sforzandos seemed a mite overdone, and the Allegretto had both a depth and inner tension.
Soloists from the orchestra were to the fore in the opening work, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, here conducted in four-square fashion by principal bass Richard Kline. The result was a conscientious reading whose lack of spirit and variable intonation undid much of the effort to get things right. But the three violins weren't bad and the extended harpsichord cadenza between the two surviving movements seems to me an acceptable solution to the problem of what to do between them.
At the same time it might have been more satisfactory without the pause just before the finale. And without some of the truly painful solos whose sound the hall likewise projected with ease. In short a nice room, but not one in which mistakes are likely to be overlooked. Or very hard to hear.