Appalachian State University’s Performing Arts Series continued with a brilliant performance by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, featuring Ryu Goto as soloist. This academic year, the series has featured a variety of guests, but perhaps none with so impressive a musical pedigree. The Grammy-award winning ensemble is known for their passion for classical music, the skill and finesse with which the present, and the original Orpheus Process, a method that democratizes artistry in an orchestral setting.

The program consisted of three well-loved favorites for strings (and continuo). Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, S.1048, was first piece on the program. The work is scored for three violins, three violas, three celli, and continuo. Bach treats each voice as a soloist, rather than the typical concerto format of soloist and accompanying orchestra. Given Orpheus’ characteristic democratic approach to interpretation, it is difficult to imagine a piece that is better tailored to display this ensemble’s strengths. The phrases were delicately shaped, the balance was incredible, the ensemble positively magical. The music took on a life of its own, and the result was a rare musical experience, one that completely fulfilled the listener. It was one of the most compelling performances that this reviewer has witnessed.

The initial concerto was followed by four more; the first half of the program could have been re-named the Greatest Hits of Baroque Concerti. Ryu Goto, violin, performed all four of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with technical brilliance and an abundance of flair. Goto’s interpretation was highly Romanticized, with dramatic changes in dynamics and generous splashes of rubato throughout the performance. Orpheus followed him every step of the way, but the ensemble seemed just slightly ill at ease with the abrupt difference in stylistic interpretation as compared to the Bach. Some of Goto’s choices were quite effective, especially the decision to take sections of “L’estate” (“Summer”) at a much faster tempo than many performers do. He also took comparatively few liberties with ornamentation, which allowed Vivaldi’s notes to come through in all their familiar clarity. All four concerti were dazzlingly exciting, if a Romantic take on Baroque music does it for you. For those of us who prefer a more historically informed interpretation, however, the result came across as a bit over-dramatic. The audience gave an enthusiastic standing ovation, suggesting that curmudgeonly Baroque purists (such as myself) are relatively uncommon.

Intermission was characterized by lots of lively discussion in the audience. While Appalachian’s Performing Arts series typically pulls in a big crowd with a lot of variety, this performance attracted many of the classically trained musicians in town. At the risk of waxing over-philosophical, it should be noted that many in the audience appeared to have a sense of what a privilege it is to hear some of the best classical music played by such an exceptional ensemble. Perhaps it is one of the gifts of living in a small town with a big appetite for arts.

The last piece on the program was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 48. The sweeping Romanticism that did not quite suit the Four Seasons was perfect for the Serenade. The second movement was simply glorious (I fully admit that I am biased. It is my all-time favorite waltz – but it really was glorious). It was really difficult not to get up and dance. Listening to Tchaikovsky played well is like eating crème brûlée: creamy with textural contrasts and delightfully indulgent. The Preludio from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Op. 40, provided a lovely encore to satisfy the enthusiastic fans.

The Appalachian Performing Arts Series continues throughout the spring semester; for details, see our calendar.