Ars Viva offers up stirring account of early Sibelius

Mon Nov 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Alan Heatherington led Ars Viva in music of Liszt, Wagner, Humperdinck and Sibelius Sunday in Skokie.

For the third concert in Ars Viva’s seasonal series at the North Shore Center in Skokie, Alan Heatherington contrasted three late Romantic barn-burners with a major symphonic  work of the greatest originality.

Humperdinck’s overture to Hansel and Gretel is richly-scored and appropriately dramatic, but  deeply conservative in style. Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger presents his lighter and most audience-friendly fare while Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 is energetic and varied if ultimately shallow.  Heatherington’s lively tempos made up for some surprisingly rough ensemble work, but not enough to dispel the occasional nature of the pieces.

For the second half of the program the artists presented a solid reading of the Sibelius First Symphony. While still employing a Russian-flavored late Romantic vocabulary, the Finnish composer’s first essay in the genre brings an individual approach to form and style. Rather than a formal rigor, each movement has an organic relationship with the others and to the whole work, yet are atmospheric and event-laden enough to stand alone as individual tone poems. From the simple clarinet solo at the opening of the work to its lushly Romantic themes, the music announces itself as original and personal, although deeply rooted in the conventions of the past.

Heatherington’s performance demonstrated a firm grasp of the architecture of the piece as well as its propulsiveness. If the performance could have used that last bit of emotional commitment, it delivered a committed and  involving account of an early Sibelius work that still deserves a higher profile in the concert-hall repertory.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment