Ars Viva presents an enchanting Sunday serenade

Mon Jan 09, 2012 at 12:15 pm

By Sam Lopata

Alan Heatherington led the Ars Viva Orchestra in a program of wind serenades Sunday in Skokie.

For its first concert of the new year, Ars Viva provided a sweet way to tie up the weekend Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Music director Alan Heatherington provided a history of each piece prior to its performance, the conductor’s policy of educating the audience proving how an illuminating background can inform listening.

The evening began, not with the usual orchestra, but a much-reduced wind ensemble in Dvořák’s Serenade in d minor, Op. 44. The piece is scored for two oboes, clarinets and bassoons, three horns, and a solo cello and double bass, all of which came together to produce the necessary Czech folk-like vitality that pervades Dvořák’s compositions. The players blended wonderfully, creating the variety of colors and personalities that the music has to offer. The Menuetto was particularly charming, moving from a traditional Czech sousedská to a stirring furiant, and then back again.

Scored for a wind octet, Mozart’s Serenade No. 12 in c minor, K. 388 (384a) opens with a commanding theme.  The ensemble played with conviction of tone and great precision during the contrapuntal passages.  While the players generally did an excellent job juxtaposing the minor passages with their lighter moments, the final moments of the Menuet & Trio dragged just a bit.  The fourth movement Allegro was approached with energy and a sense of anticipation by both the instrumentalists and the conductor, ending the first half of the concert with great excitement.

More of the orchestra joined the stage after intermission for Brahms’ Serenade No. 2.  Once again Heatherington provided useful musicological commentary of how Brahms, terrified about living up to the hype of his own name, composed this serenade as another practice run for the inevitable writing of his first symphony.  Although absent of violins, Brahms’ Serenade produces a full and rich orchestral sound that is a clear predecessor to his eventual symphonic works.

Throughout its entirety, music constantly wavered between the lush and the exciting; each movement seemed to end too soon.  The lively Rondo: Allegro was highlighted by the fluttering and swooping lines of the piccolo.  Within his controlled direction, Heatherington was able to coax a diverse and stunning spectrum of expression from the orchestra that perfectly suited the Romanticism of Brahms.

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