“Return to the Idyll” was the title of the first Jordan Hall concert in A Far Cry’s eighth season. The program epitomized the adventuresome spirit that has made the orchestra a prized part of Boston’s music scene. But the title was somewhat deceptive: The idyllic was where the concert ended, not where it began, and before reaching it listeners traveled a path fraught with anxiety and strange phenomena.
The group began its Friday performance with its own arrangement of Thomas Adès’s 1993 string quartet “Arcadiana,” seven fleeting visions of imagined paradises. There is more unease than serenity in these arcadias, and in the center is a spectral, death-haunted tango. This is taxing music for four performers, and it was an audacious move for a string orchestra to take it up. Yet unlike so many quartet arrangements, which dilute the music’s power by amplifying the forces, this one worked marvelously. By judiciously parceling out solo and ensemble sections, it magnified the fantastical nature of Adès’s music without sacrificing its transparency. Even in the slow sixth movement, one of the most beautiful stretches of music composed in the last quarter century, there was a graininess to the sound that kept it from feeling bloated.
Very different in nature was a rarely played adaptation of Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata for violin, strings, and percussion, which convincingly changes the piece from chamber music to a small-scale concerto. The arrangement made the piece less bleak and more colorful — at one point the strings sounded almost like a chamber organ — and it opened up the creeping sense of dread in the outer movements and gave the scherzo a brutal, almost apocalyptic feel. Augustin Hadelich gave a magnificent account of the solo part, showing complete command over dynamics, phrasing, and tone color. He handled the treacherous runs in the scherzo with ease, and there was a terrific sense of give and take with the orchestra.
Pastoral serenity was achieved after intermission in Janacek’s “Idyll.” It is hard to recognize in this early suite for strings the seeds of the composer’s innovative later works. But it’s true to its title, a sequence of warm folk-inflected melodies arranged with surpassing warmth. Musically it was the least inventive work of the evening, but it had an irresistible lilt and geniality. It was also played with consummate tonal refinement by a group that continues to move from strength to strength.
David Weininger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.