Fourth Symphony provides the highlight in Ars Viva’s Beethoven program

Tue Dec 09, 2014 at 10:19 am

By Tim Sawyier

Ars Viva performed an all-Beethoven program Sunday in Skokie.
Ars Viva performed an all-Beethoven program Sunday in Skokie.

On Sunday afternoon the Ars Viva Orchestra under music director Alan Heatherington offered an all-Beethoven concert at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. The concert featured the Coriolan Overture, Piano Concerto No. 4, and Symphony No. 4. All three works were premiered at a concert in March 1807 at the Vienna palace of Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz, Beethoven’s patron.

In his comments to audience members between works, Heatherington drew their attention to the inauspicious performing circumstances at the 1807 concert, namely a stone-deaf soloist, insufficient rehearsal time, and an orchestra playing from hastily prepared hand-written parts. The Ars Viva Orchestra was not suffering under such extreme hindrances, though the results Sunday were similarly mixed.

In the Coriolan Overture, a work composed to capture the tempestuous and mercurial character of a deserting Roman soldier who ultimately takes his own life, Heatherington opted for a middle-of-the-road, tempo that robbed the work’s obsessive primary motive of its inherent tension. The piece can survive at such a tempo if the musicians remain on top of the pulse and do not allow it to drag, but neither of these happened on Sunday. Nonetheless, the preteen audience members brought in to hear the overture as part of Ars Viva’s “Music for Life” program were unanimous in their enthusiasm.

Following the overture Alon Goldstein joined Heatherington for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. From the delicate, muted solo phrase that launches the work, the Israeli pianist had a rough afternoon. Throughout the fast outer movements runs and other technical passages handfuls of notes failed to speak and the sparkling writing for the right-hand that imbues these movements was performed in a muddied, uneven fashion.

The second movement was more successful, full of pathos with Goldstein responding to the austere, menacing phrases from Ars Viva’s strings with vulnerable delicacy and chilling angst in the famous passage of right-hand trills and descending left-hand scales.

Ars Viva and Heatherington more than made up for an uneven first half with a lapidary, exuberant performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. The main body of the first movement found the Ars Viva’s phenomenal string sections playing with joyous abandon, and the second movement featured exquisite dolcissimo playing from both violin sections and beautifully sung clarinet lines from principal Gene Collerd.

The ländler-esque third movement was delightfully off-kilter as Heatherington emphasized its ubiquitous hemiolas, and the quasi-perpetual-motion last movement bristled with virtuosic energy. Among the highlights was the playing of Ars Viva’s principal bassoonist (and CSO member) Miles Maner, whose articulation and phrasing throughout the symphony were clinically precise and magisterially elegant—perhaps most impressively in the last movement’s notorious two-and-a-half-second-long double-tongued solo.

The Ars Viva Orchestra next performs 3 p.m. March 1, 2015 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. The program includes David Taylor and Ilya Kaler as soloists in the double violin concertos of J.S. Bach and Malcom Arnold, as well as music of Elliott Carter and Grieg.

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