Finding a perfect tempo is harder than you might think. A conductor doesn't get a second chance and adjustments are obvious, not only to the audience but also, more damningly, to the musicians.
Sylvia Alimena, founder and conductor of the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, which performed at the Schlesinger Concert Hall on Sunday, has an unerring feel for tempo. She never succumbs to the faster-is-more-exciting approach. Like the late Robert Shaw, she can move music with such inevitability that even deliberate tempos have an irresistible momentum. She is also a good programmer, and on Sunday she sandwiched two charming 18th-century pieces, a Vivaldi piccolo concerto and a C.P.E. Bach sinfonia, between two charming early-20th-century ones, a lighthearted "Serenade" by Jean Francaix and the Stravinsky suite from the "Pulcinella" ballet.
The 11 movements of the "Pulcinella" suite find Stravinsky vacillating between strict adherence to his assignment (from Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes) to base a ballet on the music of Pergolesi, a worthy, rather square, 18th-century composer, and his own, more impish inclinations. The result is full of surprises, with unexpected jazz interpolations and some astringent sonorities. The orchestra, largely members of the National Symphony, managed all of this with poised balance. It never reached for an effect (or a laugh) but produced them in abundance.
Carol Bean was the soloist in the Vivaldi concerto. Her assignment was to scale the acrobatic heights of the piccolo's possibilities while the orchestra chugged away, and she did this with admirable agility. The challenge here is to keep the chugging and the piccolo together, a matter more of listening than of following the conductor and, in general, the ensemble was excellent.
The C.P.E. Bach was a little bland for my taste. Appoggiaturas might have been given more weight and his other idiomatic niceties attended to with a little more emphasis. The opening serenade also might have been delivered with sharper edges.
-- Joan Reinthaler