Jonathan Carney and BSO strings delight at Strathmore

December 8, 2013

With concertmaster Jonathan Carney at the helm and as violin soloist, the Baltimore Symphony, represented by about two dozen members of its string section, brought a concert of eight “Seasons” to Strathmore on Saturday.

Four of them were Vivaldi’s, Italianate in their elegance and baroque in their transparency and balance, and four were Astor Piazzolla’s (in Leonid Desyatnikov’s arrangement), unabashedly sultry and sensual in their Latin American heat. The program alternated between the two sets and, since Desyatnikov reset Piazzolla’s original tango-band instrumentation to mirror Vivaldi’s baroque scoring and inserted snippets of Vivaldian flourishes into its guts, the contrasts were not as striking as they might have been.

Carney’s whole body served as a baton. He danced with quick nods through the Vivaldi movements, using his bow arm and the violin itself to keep things together, but he stamped, shuffled, bent and bobbed through the tangos — not very tango-like dancing but clearly immersed in its Zen. Where such activity might have been a distraction in another program, here it was kind of fun. It didn’t achieve the almost machine-like togetherness of some Vivaldi performances I’ve heard but there was a more engaging human quality to the ensemble that, particularly in the Piazzolla pieces, was warm and emphatic. That human quality was strained to the edge of sloppiness, however, in the first movement of Vivaldi’s “Summer” and the last of his “Winter,” when Carney took off at a pace that left his colleagues scrambling to keep up — although it was this feat of technical derring-do that brought whistles and bravos from the audience.

What Carney and the orchestra did so well, however, was to project baroque clarity through light, vibrato-less pianissimos and Argentinian passion with broad and boldly bowed warmth.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.


Jonathan Carney (Grant Leighton)
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