I didn’t know you could play double stops on the flute, but apparently Lisa Hennessy, principal flautist of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, can do it. In her performance of the Khachaturian concerto for flute, originally written for violin, there were places where the doppelganger of a melody seemed to bubble up out of nowhere, while Hennsessy was playing something else. Quite spectacular.

The entire concert of the Portland Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday night at Merrill Auditorium was unusual, perhaps because of the guidance of guest conductor Tito Muñoz.

The mystery began with the performance of the Mozart overture to “The Magic Flute.” The tempo chosen by Muñoz seemed slow at first, but within that leisurely flow were packets of high energy, highlighted by the conductor’s flair for dynamics. The contrasts made the overture more interesting than usual.

It was followed by the Khachaturian concerto, composed in 1940 for violinist David Oistrakh and later transcribed for flute by Jean Pierre Rampal. Hennessy played it beautifully, with both a liquid singing tone and the ability to perform virtuoso passages.

Even the loud squeaks at the end were managed well, while the rest of the orchestra members supported their fellow musician admirably.

The only problem with the concerto was its unworthiness of the effort devoted to it. Khachaturian, of “Saber Dance” fame, was the composer’s equivalent of a one-trick pony. He was immensely popular for a while, during and after World War II, but eventually fell into relative obscurity. The Armenian themes of his concerto are pleasant enough, and there are moments of lyricism and excitement, but it basically goes nowhere and takes too long to do it. A good show-off vehicle for a virtuoso, however.

Both Muñoz and the orchestra showed what they could do with the great Dvorak Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88. It was almost perfect, from the opening bird calls to the unusual and ferocious climax – the best managed I have heard in a long time. Muñoz seemed able to draw an extra reserve of sonority from all sections, but especially the strings. The third movement, allegretto grazioso, was a waltz for the angels.

The work as a whole drew a standing ovation, rare for an orchestral performance and well deserved.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: classbeat@netscape.net

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