It seems as though the annual appearance of Maestro Nicholas McGegan to conduct the Academy Chamber Orchestra grows in interest and appeal with every passing year. This edition filled the ground level and much of the choir at the First Presbyterian Church with people eager to hear what musical riches this resourceful baroque music expert had up his sleeves this time. The opening piece, the Concerto for Flute, Oboe, and Bassoon in F Major, Op. 44 no. 16, RV 570, “La tempesta di mare” of Antonio Vivaldi, set up a dynamic that would be followed throughout the first half of the concert, in which the winds would be featured prominently. Those who savor the extraordinary range of music written in the 17th and 18th centuries were sure to be pleased not only by the familiar style of Vivaldi, among the best-known and most beloved of early composers, but also by the fascinating and beautiful orchestral excerpts from the Dardanus of Jean-Philippe Rameau that came next. The original opera is more than four hours long, and includes the requisite vocal sections one would expect, but what McGegan and the ACO played were some of the many airs and dances that contribute nearly as much to the overall flavor and impact of the work. French baroque style differs markedly from the Italian, and the result in the instance of this performance was one of the season’s most memorable musical experiences of any kind, a really outstanding and fresh glimpse of a fascinating musical world.
McGegan then brought out Hanah Stuart, violin, and Melissa Bosma, oboe, both dressed in glamorous concert gowns, as the soloists for the Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060 of J. S. Bach. Another fine and rarely heard piece received a top-notch rendition by the soloists and the ensemble.
Despite the success of these pre-intermission performances, the best was left for last as the full chamber orchestra returned after the interval to present the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60 of Beethoven. For anyone who has ever thought that the even-numbered Beethoven symphonies lack the drama of their more famous brothers, look no further. With noticeable but never intrusive period performance adjustments to their sound, the ACO swept the audience away with boldness, lyricism, and heart. McGegan consistently reminds audiences of why they fell in love with music in the first place, and the standing ovation they earned was entirely deserved.