Ars Viva, Heatherington at their finest with inspired English program

Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Alan Heatherington led Ars Viva in music of Britten, Elgar and Vaughan Williams Sunday in Skokie.

Sunday afternoon’s concert by Ars Viva displayed the North Shore orchestra at its very finest in repertoire in which the musicians and their leader, Alan Heatherington excel: British music of the past century.  With a beautifully balanced string sound and clarity of structure, the ensemble is able to open up the rich scoring that makes this music so gratifying to hear.

The first piece in this nicely balanced program was Benjamin Britten’s slight but charming Simple Symphony. The Ars Viva strings played with rhythmic security and technical virtuosity, particularly in the Playful Pizzicato movement which was brought off with a good deal of panache. In the third movement (Sentimental Sarabande) the conductor elicited a surprising depth of emotion that belied the movement’s title.

Amit Peled

The Britten proved an excellent lead-in to a solid performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto with Amit Peled as soloist.  With his masculine tone firmly projected in front of the orchestra, the fine young Israeli cellist delivered a robust and dramatic reading of this concise masterpiece. Perhaps the emotional depths were not explored as thoroughly as in some performances but cellist and orchestra played off each other with authority and commitment eliciting an enthusiastic response from the audience.

Peled concluded the first half of the program with a moving account of the cello and orchestral transcription of the short Prayer in Bloch’s From Jewish Life as a tribute to the late Robert Galvin, a respected patron of the arts and former CEO of Motorola.

The Vaughan Williams Fifth Symphony was the prize of the evening — one of the composer’s most important and satisfying works, though perhaps not the most popular judging from the number of empty seats in the North Shore Center’s Skokie auditorium.

At close to 40 minutes the piece is one of the composer’s shorter symphonies, but it is ample and expansive in its emotional landscape. Heatherington had a firm grasp on the work’s architecture throughout and the hushed opening movement of the work built up to its climactic moment and back again with clean and detailed orchestral playing.

The second movement, a sophisticated but at times folksy scherzo, was taken at a lively pace and given an appropriately elastic treatment as it eased into the Romanza — the heart and soul of the symphony and a microcosm of the composer’s best work. The solo turns by oboe, English horn, and especially a characteristically soaring violin melody contributed to a deeply felt experience which concluded in a kind of rapt darkness.

The concluding Passacaglia was more straightforward with a wide range of orchestral variations building up to surging swells that wind down again to contemplative interludes and a quiet conclusion. The ending was as perfectly judged as was the entire symphony in the hands of Heatherington and this fine ensemble.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Ars Viva, Heatherington at their finest with inspired English program”

  1. Posted Oct 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm by Judith Lagona

    Ah, Sounds like the kind of concert I would have liked to attend. Alan and his Ensemble have come a long way, and have worked together for many years. Each individual member, as well as the conductor, seems to find his/her place in ensemble performance that becomes a lovely presentation of music.

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