By Dennis D. Rooney
With a nod toward the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra opened the first concert of its 30th season on Jan. 8 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens with the composer’s Symphony No. 1 (in C, Op. 21).
Conductor David Amado, in his fourth season as music director, preceded the performance with prefatory remarks that were both too long and bore the odor of a music appreciation class. Once the performance got underway, however, it proved a lively account of the score that was sensitive to the composer’s humorous moments and resistant to sentimentality.
The instrumental security, especially in the winds and brass, seemed to have reached an improved level, although there was little to be heard in the way of blend or tonal shading. Textures were transparent, assisted by divided violins, and well balanced.
From its premiere in Philadelphia in 1934, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43) of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) has retained its prominence in the piano concerto literature, just behind the composer’s Second and Third Concertos.
Like those works, it was a brilliant showpiece in Rachmaninov’s hands and has continued to challenge all subsequent performers, not merely technically but in mastering its multiple moods, from irony, dreamy reflectivity, fearless bravura, and heartfelt emotion (particularly in its 18th variation, which almost everyone knows even if they know nothing of the rest), all of which transpires in the span of 20 minutes.
Gabriela Martinez, Venezuelan-born and Juilliard-trained, was the soloist. Her bright tone, verging on the brittle, established her profile from the outset. If not always eloquent, her traversal of the solo part was technically unexceptionable. The solo Variation XV seemed to unsettle her rhythmic precision, but she recovered and went on to finish smartly. She received solid support from orchestra and conductor.
The second half brought the first set of eight Slavonic Dances (Op. 46) of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), the composer’s orchestrations of works originally for piano four hands.
The energy and fluent phrasing of the performance suggested extra rehearsal. The piano originals have more rhythmic bite, so a certain sameness creeps in the orchestral version about halfway through. A selection of three would have been more effective in underlining the dances’ contrasting moods and rhythms.