Intimate and engaging, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with pianist and MacArthur Fellow Jeremy Denk, performed an inventive quartet of works for their Friday concert in Helzberg Hall.
The program presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series included two keyboard concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach sandwiched between two works by Igor Stravinsky. Both composers remain subjects of fascination for their harmonic and rhythmic ingenuity.
This was a smaller cohort from the full ensemble, with a chamber orchestra of 21 strings for the Stravinsky works and piano added for the Bach.
The London-based Academy performed sans conductor, relying on the direction of concertmaster Tomo Keller and looking to Denk during the keyboard concertos. The shared responsibility was evident in the relation of the instrumental voices, the nuance and sophistication inherent in their interpretations.
Urgency marked Stravinsky’s Concerto in D, enforced by a brusque, somewhat gravel-y timbre. The play of rhythms over an impeccable internal pulse created a dancelike, lopsided quality.
For Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Denk gave a breath to start the stately introduction, then launched into the florid whirl of a first statement with his impassioned performance style. A peripheral glance, the tilt of the head or a slight smile of invitation indicated the connection between soloist and ensemble. As Denk played he seemed to grab handfuls of notes at a time, with energized accents pinpointing the cascading runs.
Denk, of New York, displayed control without overbearing command, creating a lovely space for the melodies to progress, especially in the largo of Bach’s Concerto No. 5 in F minor. In the final allegro, Bach took a two-note tag at the end of the initial phrase and created a sly melodic component.
Stravinsky’s “Apollon Musagete” was conceived as a ballet and this performance retained the quality of movement, whether through the angular flare from the solo violin, themes gallant and pastoral, or the syncopated, shifting treatment of rhythm.
During the lento, the principal players further emphasized the ensemble’s capability for intimacy and communication. The pianissimo tremolo faded to a nearly inaudible release, the ensuing quiet sustained by Keller’s direction.
An encore selected from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major was a spirited finish to an exquisite performance.