Chamber Music Wilmington continued its 2017-18 season in Beckwith Recital Hall at UNCW, with a concert by ACRONYM. The group is a Baroque string ensemble dedicated, as stated in its biography, “to giving modern premieres of the wild instrumental music of the seventeenth century.” Formed in 2012, the 10-member group has performed around the east coast and has four CDs to its credit.

“Wild” isn’t an adjective typically associated with music of that era. However, a theatrical quality certainly is, and ACRONYM at its best brought strikingly dramatic expression to its performances.

The first two short sonatas, by Antonio Bertali and Giovanni Valentini, showcased the ensemble’s rich tone and dynamic rhythm. Meter changes were exact, with tight coordination among the group members. The fine bass sonority stood out, even in this assemblage of superb performers. Despite the tonal beauty and spacious expression, the sonatas would have benefitted from more dynamic variety. The softer sections were very welcome when they occurred.

The ending piece of the first half was the concerto for Viola d’Amore and Lute in D minor by Vivaldi (RV 540). This showcased Karina Schmitz, viola d’amore and Simon Martyn-Ellis, Baroque lute. Their sensitive expressive lines were a pleasure to experience. The second movement of the piece made a particular impression with its beautiful plucked string accompaniment.

The show stealer of the first half, however, was the piece which came before that, the Sonata in A minor by Johann Rosenmüller. With its frequent changes of tempo and mood, and the emotionalism of the performance, the experience was like being in the theatre. Dramatic pauses punctuated the piece. It danced, and carried the listener away with rhythmic verve. One could visualize a scene, and this music could make him imagine that he was there. It ended with a wonderful pp. The high emotion of “wild” Baroque music was brought to life.

Even that, however, did not fully prepare the listener for the remarkable intensity of The Four Seasons of Vivaldi which followed the intermission. The work is highly pictorial, re-imagining in music the words of poems describing those times of the year. As reconceived by ACRONYM, one experienced the work revealed as though it were new. There was continuous drama in the shifts of mood and color between sections and in the rubato freely taken throughout. It was like a theatrical performance experienced solely with instruments, with characters whose moods endlessly evolved.

“Spring” featured Adriane Post as the violin soloist. The phrasing was dynamic and always shapely. The Baroque guitar produced a fine lower-range tone. The minor mode section of the first movement had a gorgeous legato and a beautiful sense of suspension. The rustic dance of the third movement swung with rhythm, and the violin lines at times carried the full lyricism of recitative.

After retuning – an ongoing necessity with the gut strings of baroque instruments – Johanna Novorn took over as the soloist for “Summer.” One could feel the heat. The halting motion brought expressive tension; pauses with this ensemble are events in themselves. In the second movement, one could practically feel the insects buzzing while the solo violin was like a plaintive voice in an opera before the threat of storm. The unleashed storm of the third movement was like being in the theatre. It ended with a fabulous dynamic drop away.

Kyle Miller was the viola soloist for “Autumn.”  His playing – on an instrument not as often associated with solo expression – was every bit as impassioned as that of his colleagues. But changing the instrument for this one concerto caused some loss of unity. The drop of a 5th in pitch reduced the brightness of the overall tone. Yet the excitement remained. The revelry of the first movement was palpable. Dramatic shifts in mood once again evoked characters in the theatre. One of them was plainly drunk. The second movement was a beautiful aria, purely vocal in its evocation. Bending pitch – one of the many interpretive freedoms taken in the work – once again suggested someone who had had too many drinks and was slurring his words. Then there was an extraordinary passage on the harpsichord, dissonant, deep, even menacing. The “wild” baroque was a time of great improvisatory freedom, and this passage evoked a mood moment which seemed utterly spontaneous and, yet again, dramatic. The movement ended with another wonderful fade. The third movement was unreservedly jaunty. The bass used slapping strings, another dramatic gesture perhaps suggesting the guns of the hunt. A suspended interlude brought in the last high-spirited statement of the theme.

Even against the superb solo performances to this point, violinist Edwin Huizinga stood out in the final concerto, “Winter.” His passion seemed so spontaneous that he was literally like a stage character. Eyes closed, he rotated his body and walked and consummately played his instrument like a part of his body. The sense of skidding on ice in the first movement came with evocative squeals and squeaks from the orchestra. It caught the essence of Vivaldi’s winter scene. The pungent pizzicato of the second movement helped project the warmth of the fireplace, and the soloist’s ornamentation was exquisite. An unusual touch took over when, at the end of this movement, he bent the last pitch, and with a chromatic shift brought on the third movement without pause. Again, one seemed to be in the theatre. Dramatic pauses created tension and excitement, and the virtuosic ending whirlwind was almost breathtaking.

The entire performance was memorable. It illuminated the work with unique intensity and imagination. The mission of ACRONYM is to present music not recently performed, but one can only hope that their vision of The Four Seasons – as familiar as the piece is – will reach a recording. To those who thrilled to this performance, it would be a privilege to experience it again and yet again.