A change of "Seasons" at Ozawa Hall
Rediscover a work that has been played just about every way except by dwarves standing on their heads? If Sorrell didn't quite deliver on her promise with her baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire at Tanglewood on Wednesday night, she put some high-octane fuel into the tank. It was quite a show.
The idea, Sorrell said in program notes and talks from the stage, was to transport Vivaldi's four violin concertos to the Italian countryside conjured up in annotations in the scores. Thus: the twittering birds, the flowing brook, the menacing storm, the barking dog, the drunken peasant, etc.
These are familiar landmarks. The new twist was, before each concerto, to have Sorrell introduce the effects one by one and the players demonstrate them. This led to a good bit of good-natured mugging and miming. Thus: As soloist in "Autumn," concertmaster Olivier Brault staggered around, both musically and physically, as the drunken peasant.
Sorrell is a wonder. A harpsichordist-conductor who studied conducting under such as Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, she founded Apollo's Fire — the name is borrowed from the god of music and the sun — in 1992. And she was shrewd enough to found it not in such hotbeds of early music as Boston and San Francisco, but in Cleveland, where it continues to thrive today, with 25 commercial recordings behind it. Some of the 18 players are also Tanglewood grads.
Though youthful in appearance and energy, Sorrell sometimes seems like a mother to her endlessly skillful players as she leads, praises and runs to embrace them. She conducts, standing, from the keyboard — almost everybody in this outfit stands to perform — and lavishes overflowing praise on the soloists, who come from the ranks.
Following up on their 2015 Tanglewood debut, which was primarily Bach, they alternated the "Seasons" concertos with lesser-known works by Marco Uccellini, Evaristo dell'Abaco and Vivaldi himself. The Vivaldi bonus was a concerto for two cellos, with Ren Schiffer and Mim Yamahiro Brankmann as soloists. With its typical Vivaldi scurrying and strumming and its bottom-heavy solo parts, the piece gave the impression of running in place.
The hallmarks of a Sorrell performance are sharp-edged dynamics and a hard stomp at the beginning of a measure, followed by twisting and teasing of rhythms until the next stomp. There is an element of exaggeration here, but the music can take it and it is done so artfully that it is difficult to resist. In this dynamic treatment, Vivaldi's storm music just about matched Beethoven's in his "Pastoral" Symphony.
If not rediscovered, Vivaldi was at least given fresh life. Alan Choo (in "Spring") and Susanna Perry Gilmore (in "Summer") joined Breault (in "Autumn" and "Winter") as soloists. A near-capacity audience in Ozawa Hall, plus a large crowd of lawn sitters, went for the ride enthusiastically.
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