By Dennis D. Rooney
Dance music dominated the first half of the second Masterworks Series program of the Atlantic Classical Orchestra’s 30th season Wednesday at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens.
Dance Card by Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) was the opener. Written in 2016, the five-movement work, for string orchestra, explores different aspects of dance rhythms. Three of them were played on this occasion: “Raucous Rumpus (A Fanfare)”; “Celestial Blue”; and “Machina Rockus.” The slow second one, a long, rather austere melody over a slow pulse, was my favorite; the faster outer ones were agreeable but somewhat more conventional. All were commandingly performed.
Stravinsky’s Suite de Pulcinella was heard next. Premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1922, it comprises less than half of the complete ballet of the same name first performed by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris in 1920. For a scenario based on the commedia dell’arte, Stravinsky used music attributed to the short-lived Neapolitan composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736).
However, most of the material eventually was discovered to be not by Pergolesi but in fact the work of several obscure contemporaries. Nevertheless, Stravinsky, despite initial indifference to the project, was eventually won over. He called Pulcinella “my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course — the first of many love affairs in that direction — but it was a look in the mirror, too.”
In the course of the suite’s eight sections, Stravinsky can at first be heard treating his material rather straightforwardly but in each succeeding movement gradually undermining 18th-century consonance through rhythmic and harmonic offsets, irregular phrase lengths and sometimes-bizarre orchestration. Some early commentators derided it as “Pergolesi with wrong notes.”
Despite some cloudy articulation and disagreements over intonation in some choirs, Amado led an entertaining performance that was enriched by excellent solo playing from concertmaster Leonid Sigal, principal cello Ashley Garritson, and principal flute Christina Apelgren. In the Vivo, the teamwork of principal bass Janet Clippard and principal trombone Timothy Conner was simply delicious.
Although Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (in D, Op. 61) is not thought to be dance music, the bouncing 6/8 rhythm of its finale suggests an unmistakably terpsichorean character. Despite its unsuccessful premiere in 1806, the concerto eventually became the most familiar of all works of its kind.
The soloist was Elena Urioste, an American in her mid-30s of Mexican, Italian, Russian and Hungarian descent, with a Basque last name. A graduate of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (where she studied with Joseph Silverstein, David Cerone, Pamela Frank and Rafael Druian), she played on an Alessandro Gagliano violin (Naples c. 1706), with cultivated tone.
It was, however, a variable performance in which she seemed to lose and regain concentration more than once. It seemed more a distraction than a fault. Her cantabile playing was most impressive, but passages sometimes had little slips in intonation as well as a few clumsy shifts here and there. Throughout, she received sympathetic support from the ACO players.