Atlantica performs well, looks good, too

But orchestra experienced some turbulence during Concerto for Two Violins

March 08, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Music is not, at heart, a visual medium.

But what struck me about the Atlantica Chamber Orchestra, which made its debut at Pascal Theater on Friday, was how snappy this new ensemble looked.

Founded and led by Annapolis Symphony concertmaster Philip Spletzer, the chamber orchestra is chock-full of handsome young string players of both sexes. Truly, it made for marvelous theater to watch them as they stood regally on stage, elegantly fiddling their hearts out in the G minor "Concerto Grosso" of Arcangelo Corelli.

In the opening work also known as the "Christmas Concerto," they sounded as good as they looked. The delicate final movement became a Christmas Eve classic in the composer's lifetime.

Here was the ever-popular baroque idiom in all its splendor: dramatic entrances and searching harmonies in the opening movement; plenty of swing in the allegro of movement two: radiance in the third section; and a sweet, admirably rapt tone in that lovely finale.

Also, it was in the Corelli that Atlantica revealed one of its major assets: the uncommonly eloquent playing of principal cellist Thomas Kraines, whose continuous lines not only anchored the proceedings but sang eloquently on their own, adding color, motion and shape to Corelli's deftly drawn harmonies.

Spletzer took to the podium to lead a performance of Antonin Dvorak's String Serenade that was a thing of beauty from start to finish. There was plenty of elegance and breadth to those genial melodies Dvorak dished up with such stunning regularity. But at the same time, Atlantica unleashed enough energy to remind one that Eastern Europe is a region defined by passionate folk traditions.

Tamara Seymour, Atlantica's concertmistress, joined Spletzer for Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, and it was here the ensemble experienced a bit of turbulence.

Both outer movements began in shaky fashion as the orchestra had difficulty reading their cues from the soloists. And while Spletzer and Seymour play together with joy and verve, Bach demands more of a sense of give and take.

Spletzer is an intense fiddler ready to bring out the emotional intensity of whatever he is playing. Seymour is an aristocrat who tends to hold the emotions down. As a result, he would heat things up, she would cool them some, and we wound up with a concerto in which the soloists didn't always mesh. This was especially true in the second movement, as the two melody lines worked at cross purposes emotionally.

The moral, I think, is that in the Bach "Double" the soloist-conductor is first and foremost a collaborator who can't enter fully into either of those stated roles. His personality can't dominate the solo part any more than his virtuosity can animate the ensemble single-handedly. It's a proposition all conductors would do well to consider: In music, as in life, less can sometimes be more.

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