Gil Shaham was very much the Primus inter pares amid the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields during their performances of Anton Arensky’s Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, op. 50, and the Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence, op. 70, at Strathmore last Sunday. The group performed beautifully, compact and like a well-oiled machine. If there was a touch of routine beneath the surface of beauty in the Arenksy, it was outshone by the sheer professionalism of these two dozen players. And not only was the Academy in good form in their WPAS-presented concert, the very fact that Arenksy – a much underrated composer – made it onto the program was a delight. Marvelously Romantic and original, even when he riffs off Tchaikovsky as in his Variations, which he first culled from a Tchaikovsky song (“Legends”), for his string quartet where it served as the second movement. It went over just as well as the concluding echt-Tchaikovsky. The Souvenir is a lush show-off piece for string ensembles, and the Academy and Shaham knew how to milk it to its maximum effect without going overboard. No wonder they elicited enthusiastic cheers and a Mozart encore.
Daniel Ginsberg, St. Martin in the Fields (Washington Post, February 28)
W. A. Mozart, Violin Concertos 3-5, Manze/English Concert