A good gauge of what Magnus Martensson has achieved with this mostly student, partly professional orchestra was apparent in the clarity with which the strings projected the complex but gossamer textures and the plaintive ambience of the concert's opening work, Elliott Carter's early "Elegy for String Orchestra."
The longer line may have been better-shaped than some of the inner details, but the overall performance had coherence and a remarkable sense of assurance.
This same assurance was also evident in Haydn's Symphony No. 24 in D Major. Like Mozart's music, Haydn's falls so gratefully on the ear that the average listener may not realize how difficult it is, and what a builder of ensemble technique and discipline it can be, to play the symphonies of Papa Haydn.
The music is so transparent that every little glitch shows, and it is a great rarity when a Haydn symphony is both technically accurate and emotionally exciting. Though Tuesday's performance did not hit that level, it still gave a good, balanced account of the rarely heard Symphony No. 24.
The voicing of the horns in the first movement's main theme was fine and the whole presentation had a consistently bracing sense of forward impetus. In the slow movement the lovely, long floating roulades for flute were nicely lofted by co-principal Kristen Kinnear, and there was a fine spring in the rhythms of the Menuetto. The concluding Allegro was a bit bottom-heavy at times, but the bigger shape of the movement was well-drawn and the typically bouncy spirit of a Haydn finale was successfully projected.
Turning to music of the Romantic era, there was a sensitively shimmering opening to Borodin's orchestral poem "In the Steppes of Central Asia," effectively suggesting the vastness of those treeless plains. Not all phrases were seamlessly joined together, but the line was well-sustained and there were creditable solo lines by oboe, clarinet and horns.
Though the first appearance of the main theme in full orchestra was a bit choppy, and needed to be more legato in line and expansive in feeling, this did not prevent the performance as a whole from being evocative and absorbing.
Concluding the concert, Martensson got the Brahms "Academic Festival Overture" off to a fine start, providing a rhythmic propulsion that was just right, somewhere between punchy and bouncy.
The stately first theme was smoothly intoned by the brass and Martensson held the entire work, with its rapidly changing moods, together very well, notwithstanding the occasional ensemble imbalance or overprominent instruments. He was especially effective in evoking the boisterous spirits that erupt quite regularly in this wonderful pastiche of German student songs.
In addition, Martensson wrote succinct but very informative program notes for the concert.
The orchestra's next concert is on Dec. 6, and will consist of just two major works, Bartok's Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra, and Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite "Scheherazade."
Season's opening concert, conducted by Magnus Martensson.
Tuesday evening in Slee Concert Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus.