Apollo’s Fire, the baroque chamber orchestra based in Cleveland, came to the Foellinger Great Hall on Oct. 3 and gave a guided tour through Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”
The title of the concert included the word “Rediscovered,” and indeed, the discovery of how Vivaldi imitated animal and natural sounds in his music may have been news to much of the audience, which included a large number of students.
Jeannette Sorrell, the conductor and harpsichordist of the group, acted as guide in introducing the four violin concertos of “The Four Seasons,” pointing out how Vivaldi imitated a barking dog, the sound of gnats and an indication of how a drunk passed out, in the music depicting a harvest festival.
This was all good fun, and Sorrell’s enthusiasm clearly carried along the audience, as her musical leadership raised the excitement level of the musical performance.
Vivaldi’s sonnets, giving in words, what his music was describing, were printed in the program, with facing Italian and English texts, and these texts backed up Sorrell’s commentary.
It has been my experience that, when the emphasis in explaining Vivaldi’s work is placed on such effects as the barking dog, the scraping effects on the strings seem louder than in performances when no attention is given to these effects. Is it possible that the performers actually play the “sound effects” louder, to make sure that we get the point?
One might remember that “The Four Seasons” is beloved for more reasons than tone painting, and the warmth and vivacity of this music was well conveyed in the Apollo’s Fire’s readings.
The violin solos were brilliantly played by Alan Choo in “Spring” and “Summer” and by Olivier Brault in “Autumn” and “Winter.” Brault, especially, combined his virtuoso violin fireworks with elegant dance movements.
The first part of the concert ended with a rough and tumble playing of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos, RV 531, with Rene Schiffer and Ezra Seltzer, cellists, and their routine of “dueling cellos” brought cheers from the audience before intermission.
After “Autumn” and “Winter,” the concert program ended with Sorrell’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s treatment of the famous baroque tune “La Folia” (“Madness”), in which the ensemble moved around with gusto, and even with a mini-drama of a romantic triangle. The vivacious playing induced some degree of “Folia” in us in the audience. A standing ovation, with some howls of delight, brought, as encore, “Glory in the Meeting House,” an Apollo’s Fire arrangement of a fiddling tune, which this group had played as encore at their appearance here in October 2013. In sum, Sorrell knows how to make her concerts fun, and that is not always the case at baroque concerts.
On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 13, Donald Schleicher conducted the UI Symphony in the FGH in a program of music by Ottorino Respighi, Osvaldo Golijov and Johannes Brahms. The highlight of the program was a performance of Brahms’ violin concerto, with the Korean violinist Jinyou Lee as soloist. Lee, the winner of the UI Symphony Concerto Competition, earned her master’s degree at Yale, and is currently studying for the doctoral degree at UIUC with Professor Stefan Milenkovich.
At her entry in the first movement of the Brahms concerto, she made a engaging impression with her delicate phrasing of the melodic line. She played the dolce melody with sweet tone, and in the stormy passages, she caressed the strings with her bow, rather than striking the strings. In the first movement cadenza, Lee showed a complete mastery of the virtuosic complexities of this display section.
With firm and sensitive support from Schleicher and the symphony players, Lee’s violin playing blended beautifully with the woodwind and brass players in the slow movement. In the concerto’s finale, the tossing of the gypsy rondo theme from Lee’s violin to the orchestra built up to a joyous conclusion. Amid strong applause, there were cheers from the audience.
Earlier in the concert, there was a lively and tuneful playing of Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1.” Also, a large group of string players, without conductor, divided into two opposing sections to play Golijov’s 1996 “Last Round,” a memorial tribute to the great tango player and composer Astor Piazzolla. Written for string orchestra or nonet (nine players), this work had been played last Oct. 4 by the Jupiter Quartet and the Jasper Quartet, and Michael Cameron, bass. With more players, the tumult of the opening section was more violent than the earlier performance. For me, this work is saved by the elegiac outpouring of grief in the concluding section.