Friday was a busy morning for Ruggero Allifranchini, the associate concertmaster of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Playing one concerto as the soloist, leading another from the concertmaster’s chair, then taking the same position for a Haydn symphony — you couldn’t exactly call it a quiet day at the office.

Allifranchini thrives on the responsibility, however, and his solo work in Vivaldi’s “Il favorito” Violin Concerto was a gem of rediscovery and reinvention.

Standing center stage with a small collection of 16 players around him, Allifranchini probed the outer movements of the concerto with keen-edged musical intelligence.

In the opening allegro, he teased caprice from a series of sharply imagined micro-episodes before unleashing dashes of piquant, mercurial temperament in the scampering finale.

The slow movement was not so much a pause for breath as a rapt holding-in of it. Time seemed suspended as Allifranchini spun Vivaldi’s fantastical patterns in the ether above a featherlight accompaniment of violins and violas.

Igor Stravinsky once waspishly noted that Vivaldi didn’t write 500 concertos, but “the same concerto 500 times.” To which this pulsatingly detailed performance of “Il favorito” was the perfect rejoinder.

Allifranchini’s solo contributions were again a feature in the Concerto Grosso Op. 5, No. 12 (“La Follia”) by Francesco Geminiani that opened the program.

Taking a tune popular in the baroque period, Geminiani’s concerto works 23 variations on it, each of them thoughtfully characterized by the SPCO players in a broadly reflective, ruminative interpretation.

Guest cellist Peter Stumpf sparred with Allifranchini, trading bow-licks in the concertino sections and showing impressive finger speed in the rapid, sputtering cello breaks Geminiani interpolated.

Between the Vivaldi and Geminiani items came a Concerto for Two Flutes by Domenico Cimarosa, a contemporary of Mozart.

SPCO flutists Julia Bogorad-Kogan and Alicia McQuerrey played the solos brightly, to a neatly trimmed accompaniment that caught the music’s galanterie and courtly manners to a nicety.

Dimmed stage lights after the intermission heralded a wholly different type of musical experience — the string piece “Fratres” by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, in a version for strings by SPCO violinist Daria Adams.

For this, the players sat in arrowhead formation, the three cellists centrally positioned at a right angle to the audience. The piece’s layered ethereality and otherworldly harmonics wavered atmospherically in the Ordway acoustic, with input from at least one extra player perambulating on the balcony.

Then it was Allifranchini time again, as the indefatigable Italian violinist returned to lead the orchestra (unconducted throughout the concert) in the closing piece, Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 (“Fire”).

There are those (myself included) who feel that few if any musical pleasures can equal 20 minutes spent with one of Haydn’s many symphonies.

And this bounding, brilliantly incisive performance of the “Fire” was further evidence that there are few better places at present to listen to a Haydn symphony than in the Ordway Concert Hall when the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is playing.

 

Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at artsblain@gmail.com.