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Review: With precision technique, Academy of St. Martin orchestra wows Kravis crowd

03.20.13
Inon Barnatan, Alisa Weilerstein, Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Palm Beach Daily News

By Joseph Youngblood

The weather was still nippy outside but inside the Kravis Center it was hot, hot, hot. The guests were the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan.

The 21 strings and five winds — two horns, two oboes, and a bassoon — play without a conductor, but they take their cues from Andrew Haveron, the concertmaster.

The concert opened with Benjamim Britten’s Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, Op. 10. The 24-year-old Britten was a student of Bridge and based this work on the second of his Three Idylls for String Quartet, Op. 6. There are 10 variations, with titles such as Aria Italiana, Bourree Classique, and Wiener Walzer. The orchestra played with amazing precision and with the brightest tone imaginable. The work opened with all the strings in unison, followed by sudden and extreme dynamic changes. The violin tone was especially lovely in the fourth variation, and the solo viola was heard to advantage in the seventh. Especially interesting was the fifth variation — Aria Italiana — with all the instruments except the first violins quickly strumming the strings of their instruments.

Alisa Weilerstein was the soloist in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Concerto No. 1 in C. This work was probably composed about 1765, but it was lost and not discovered until the orchestral parts were found in 1962 in a museum in Prague. Weilerstein plays beautifully, with a minimum of motion. Haydn placed most of the solo part in a very high register, and she is quite comfortable in that part of the cello. Although her lyric sound dominated the first-movement cadenza, most of the concerto was very high and very fast. This posed no problem for Weilerstein, whose technique was phenomenal.

The Johann Sebastian Bach’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052 was the vehicle for Barnatan. The work is unlike the concertos of Mozart or Beethoven, which alternate soloist and orchestra. Both the orchestra and the piano are playing most of the time, and the soloist rises above the orchestra from time to time. He has a very smooth, clean-finger technique, and a crisp tone when it is called for. He introduced dynamics into the phrases, taking them down to a whisper and then back up to a full sound.

Following the Bach concerto, the stage was cleared of all the chairs except for three chairs for the cellos; the rest of the orchestra stood while playing the concluding work, Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor, the “farewell” symphony. The orchestra was joined by the horns, oboes and bassoon, whose sound can be heard above the strings. This work differs from most of the Haydn symphonies in that the focus is less on themes and structure, and more on texture. The ending is famous, as the players leave the stage in groups of one or two. At the end, only the concertmaster and the principal second violin are left, facing one another.

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is an amazing ensemble. The performance depends on the individual players, all of whom are artists, and we are never disappointed.