The concert hall of the George Mason University Center for the Arts is the ideal location to appreciate the technical clarity and tonal homogeneity of the 17-piece "string quartet" called the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Led by Associate Artistic Director Kenneth Sillito, this ensemble of dedicated virtuosos presented a concert Sunday evening that included some revelatory playing of works from the gamut of the string orchestra repertoire.
While a Mozart divertimento and a Rossini sonata charmed with classical lightness and gaiety, the extent of this group's expertise was best displayed in Hindemith's Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Op. 44, and Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C, Op. 48.
Warmth and purity characterized the ensemble's sound generally, but the particularly dark colors used in parts of the Hindemith work matched the music's rhythmic weight and harmonic density. In the Tchaikovsky serenade, more frequently heard with four times the number of players, a pervasive lightness allowed the group to explore subtleties of phrasing and dynamics that would be exceedingly difficult with a larger ensemble. Barely audible pianissimos, seamless exchanges of phrases and textures of palpable clarity sprang from every page in this remarkable rendering.
Guitarist Christopher Parkening was featured in the Vivaldi Concerto in D and Heseltine's "Capriol" Suite. His rhythmic flexibility in the slow movements of the Vivaldi concerto resulted in a hauntingly beautiful performance, but the Heseltine suite provided a better vehicle for Parkening's wide-ranging technical and interpretive skills.