There was a lot of fine, fancy fiddling going on as seven Arkansas Symphony Orchestra violinists soloed in “seasonal” fare for the orchestra’s Intimate Neighborhood Concert on Thursday night at Little Rock’s Second Presbyterian Church.
The program consisted of the four concertos that make up Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and three of the four movements of Astor Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estraciones Portenas (aka The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). Philip Mann conducted a small string orchestra with harpsichord continuo.
The lineup spread the wealth across the violin section:
• The orchestra’s co-concertmasters, Andrew Irvinand Kiril Laskarov, playing Vivaldi’s “Autumn” and “Winter,” respectively.
• Three chamber-concert stars: all Katherine Williamson playing Vivaldi’s “Spring” and Meredith Maddox Hicks and Trisha McGovern taking on Piazzola’s “Summer” and “Winter.”
• And two “back-benchers,” Algimantas Staskevicius and Leanne Day-Simpson , names even regular concertgoers might recognize only from the program, playing Vivaldi’s “Summer” and Piazzola’s “Spring,” respectively.
All seven did phenomenal jobs, stepping in and out of the violin “tutti” section to handle their own particular solos. And between Mann’s brisk tempos and a lot of energy from the players, these were among the liveliest and most energetic performances, particularly of the four Vivaldi pieces, I’ve heard in a while.
Most of the highlights, however, came out of the second half — Irvin having particular fun with the ornamentation and the harvest-festival-fiddler role in Vivaldi’s “Autumn”; Laskarov playing “Winter” with firm resolve, beautiful tone and full control. McGovern practically blew the audience out the back of the sanctuary with a particularly impressive Argentine “Winter,” and Day-Simpson, as a planned encore, did as well or better with the South American “Spring.”
Mann, conducting without a baton or score, kept everything lively and upbeat and stressed Vivaldi’s programmatic aspects (noting, for example, that the repeated two-note viola figure during the middle movement of “Summer” represents, of all things, a barking dog). In some spots the miking of soloists detracted a little from the excellence of their playing.