The walls of the Teatro Colon opera house in Buenos Aires are made of stones imported from Italy. You can sometimes hear the tango there.
As the composer Osvaldo Golijov has pointed out, his native Argentina has long been enamored with European high culture. But the country is also geographically so far away from Europe that its artists have often felt a certain freedom to playfully reimagine the very cultural traditions they admire.
Take, for instance, Astor Piazzolla’s unflaggingly charming suite of works for soloist and orchestra, “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” Quotations from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” are impishly sprinkled throughout the work, but at its essence this score is a love poem to that Paris of the south in all of its guises, and to the salty, sultry, nostalgic spirit of the tango. If any music can make you pine for a place you’ve never visited, this is it.
As a highlight of the Discovery Ensemble’s season-opening program in Jordan Hall on Sunday afternoon, Joshua Weilerstein, a violinist with an accelerating conducting career, gave a beautiful and deeply felt performance of this work. More appreciated than any technical finesse, of which there was plenty, was the degree to which Weilerstein projected the inner qualities of this wistfully melancholic music, reveling by turns in the dissonant cracks between the notes, the sensual glissandi, the aggressive swagger, and the heart-on-the-sleeve lyricism.
The piece’s impact would have been still greater if the orchestral playing, under the direction of Courtney Lewis, had more closely matched the zest and rhythmic bite that Weilerstein brought to the solo line, but this was still a dazzling performance. Michal Shein contributed a shapely cello solo.
Lewis seemed most in his element in the sparkling account he led of Mozart’s Symphony No. 28 to open the afternoon. It was full of brisk tempos, articulate phrasing, and, especially in the Andante, a welcome attention to sonic texture. The Discovery strings sounded particularly vibrant in the Mozart, as well as in Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 — a nice pairing with the Piazzolla.
It is brave in a way for Lewis and his group to continue programming the Bach Orchestral Suites, as this repertoire has increasingly become the domain of period instrument specialists. Unfortunately, Sunday’s somewhat uneven performance of the Suite No. 4, despite some fine woodwind playing, lacked the specificity of intention and precise musical focus that lifts the most disinguished Discovery performances. It left me wondering whether this is in fact a repertoire that best represents this ensemble’s formidable strengths.