Strong, eloquent Brahms highlights Ars Viva opener

Mon Sep 29, 2014 at 4:42 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Alan Heatherington conducted Ars Viva's season-openig concert Sunday afternoon in Skokie.
Alan Heatherington conducted Ars Viva’s season-opening concert Sunday afternoon in Skokie.

There are few more pleasant musical harbingers of the fall than the trek to Skokie for the first Ars Viva concert of the new season.

Sunday’s program of Dvorak, Lalo and Brahms at the North Shore Center for the Arts was less venturesome than those usually devised by the orchestra’s music director and cordial host, Alan Heatherington. Yet have no fear. Later programs this season will feature works by Nielsen, Korngold, Elliot Carter and even David Diamond.

The afternoon got off to a somewhat rough start with Dvorak’s Carnival Overture. The large wind and brass brigades occasionally overpowered the small string section and the early going felt rather heavy-footed, not helped by a jarring horn blooper to herald the middle section.

The performance found its footing in that nocturnal section, aided by evocative wind playing and an extra burst of adrenaline made for a brassy and exciting coda.

Like Dvorak, music of Brahms has been a Heatherington calling card over the years. One will certainly hear more polished and technically adroit readings of the Symphony No. 4 than that presented by the Ars Viva forces Sunday, with a raw brass sonority and fitful horn lapses undermining the ensemble.

Yet such was the degree of commitment by Heatherington and the musicians—strings especially—that the performance’s sturdy eloquence and deep vein of feeling swept most doubts aside. The opening movement went with a natural ebb and flow, always with surging momentum, the conductor deftly detailing neglected wind lines.

The third movement had enviable vitality and the finale’s passacaglia was launched with implacable force. The ensuing variations were freely directed by Heatherington yet cohesively held and vitally characterized with especially fine contributions from flutist Lyon Leifer and the majestic trombones.

The Andante proved the heart of the performance, played with wonderful expressive poise and inner glow, the strings’ entrance near the end like healing balm to the soul.

The afternoon’s centerpiece was Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with David Taylor as violin soloist.

Lalo’s Spanish-flavored fiddle showpiece clearly held no difficulties for Taylor, Ars Viva concertmaster and Chicago Symphony co-associate concertmaster, who sailed through the technical hurdles with ease. After a rather straight-faced opening movement, Taylor began to relax and from there his performance went from strength to strength. He brought out the Iberian sunshine of the Scherzando and tossed off the Intermezzo with a playful lilt.

The Andante was a high point with Taylor plumbing a nice degree of fantasy and rapt intimacy. The insistent finale rounded off the performance in fine style, with Taylor’s relaxed yet dead-on bravura making for an exuberant conclusion, allied to Heatherington’s fiery tuttis.

Ars Viva’s next program is an all-Beethoven program December 7 featuring the Coriolan Overture, Symphony No. 4 and Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Alon Goldstein.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Strong, eloquent Brahms highlights Ars Viva opener”

  1. Posted Sep 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm by Robert Levin

    David Taylor’s brilliant performance was reminiscent of the great violinists of the past – one could easily hear the influences of Heifetz and Milstein in his performance of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole yesterday afternoon. How lucky we are to have him in our great Chicago Symphony Orchestra!

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