Sparks fly as Spletzer takes podium for ASO

Concert: Passion predominates as first-violinist Philip Spletzer leads a reduced-sized orchestra in works by Bach, Vivaldi, Bartok and Joseph Suk

Arundel Live

April 06, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Philip Spletzer swapped one leadership role for another Friday evening when he left his customary perch in the first-violin section for the Maryland Hall podium to conduct a reduced-sized ASO in works by Bach, Vivaldi, Bartok and Joseph Suk.

The 33-year-old violinist gave us passionate, viscerally exciting music-making that, while sometimes short on finesse and sheer beauty of tone, was seldom perfunctory or run-of-the-mill. Where flat-out brio was called for, the results were quite extraordinary.

A blistering set of Bartok's "Romanian Dances" seemed to emanate from the soul of Eastern Europe, propelled by Spletzer's dynamic energy and some straight-for-the-jugular fiddling by Tamara Seymour, the ASO's concert mistress du jour.

Sparks also flew as Spletzer and Seymour teamed as soloists in Antonio Vivaldi's A minor Concerto for Two Violins.

With the glut of oppressive musicologists we see masquerading as conductors these days, Vivaldi is often fast, cold and minus the vibrato. Spletzer would have none of that. This was super-charged Vivaldi: romantic and passionate. The gypsy ardor could have been tempered by the song of a gondolier -- Vivaldi was from Venice -- but I won't quibble too much.

The playing was exceptional, and I certainly wasn't bored.

What I did have trouble with was a Bach D minor Keyboard Concerto that became downright clunky as pianist Igal Kesselman slapped out the celestial solo part with only minimal variations of color, volume and texture. Orchestral playing seemed heavy-handed as well. Despite some attractive effects -- a lovely diminuendo at the end of the second movement, for example -- the goose bumps were few.

Far better was the "Serenade" of Joseph Suk, the Czech composer who was Antonin Dvorak's son-in-law. The "Serenade" is a flowing, lyrical work, but many tempo changes can sound ungainly when a conductor fails to negotiate them smoothly. Spletzer was more than up to the task.

He also achieved a warm, pastoral glow in the first movement, while the waltzes in the second movement flowed with their lilting grace intact. Moments of scratchy intonation in the third movement proved a temporary distraction, as the conductor was able to guide the ingratiating work to a satisfying conclusion.

As the bleacher bums used to say in Brooklyn's Ebbet's Field, "da kid done good."

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