Sunday afternoon’s concert by the Pro Arte Orchestra at Sanders Theatre gave the listener a chance to hear two outstanding works by Ludwig van Beethoven: his beloved Violin Concerto in D, op. 61 and the delightful, but less often heard, Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, op. 60. Standing as it does between the landmarks of Beethoven’s symphonic output, the revolutionary “Eroica” No. 3 and the iconic Fifth Symphony in C, this charming, less well known work harkens to Beethoven’s classical roots, while still hinting at his monumental innovations in other works.
The soloist for Sunday’s performance was the estimable Arturo Delmoni. According to the program, Yo-Yo Ma describes Delmoni as “an enormously gifted musician and an impeccable violinist. His playing style is unique, and his gorgeous sound is reminiscent of that of great violinists from a bygone era.” Far be it from me to contradict Ma, especially when Delmoni so beautifully lived up to this very description. His warm tone, command of dynamics, fluid technical mastery, and joyful interpretation of one of the most joy-filled pieces in the repertoire made this a performance to remember. The piece opened with a precisely articulated phrase, followed by sweetly controlled swells of dynamics. In many places it is the orchestra that sings the melody, not the soloist, with the violin performing a series of exercises, arpeggios, and chromatic runs that would sound like etudes in the hand of a lesser composer. But here they serve as masterful embroidery of sound. Of special note was the almost lullabye-like coda of the first movement.
The Larghetto was played with an expansive sense of time, as though a wide horizon were open, and there was a long story to tell. In this day and age of rushed, up-tempo performances, it was a relief to hear the music expand and unroll with complete control. In contrast, the final Rondo was played quite briskly, allowing Delmoni to demonstrate his formidable chops. The cadenzas, a combination of Milstein and Kreisler, showed that Delmoni could dominate the stage with his violin alone, if need be. By the way, his Guadagnini (1780) was 25 years old when Beethoven wrote this concerto. No doubt it has played the Beethoven many times, but this performance must surely rank among its favorites.
For the second half of the program, under the baton of Music Director Kevin Rhodes, the orchestra demonstrated what happens when musicians have known and worked with each other for many decades. This orchestra sings. It has an incredibly strong, well-blended wind section, and the small string section (6,6,3,3,2) played so well together and with such matched sound that they sounded like a much larger orchestra.
The work opens with an ominous Adagio, moving into a very brisk Allegro Vivace. Overall, Rhodes seemed to take all the tempi, including the slow movement, at about half a tempo marking up from the printed one, Andante for Adagio and not exactly ma non troppo on the final Allegro, but the movements were all scaled to each other, so the overall effect was of a brilliant, exuberant performance, completely in control and just bursting with joy. Rhodes conducting style was very clear, with encouragement passing back and forth between the podium and the musicians that made it clear everyone liked working with each other. Amidst a plethora of beautiful playing, Ian Greitzer’s solo in the Adagio stood out as exceptional. This orchestra deserves to be heard often!