No Sanctuary For The Mediocre In Beethoven's Music

March 12, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

When Joe Louis uttered those immortal words, "He can run but he can't hide," he was talking about a fleet-footed opponent he planned to clobber, not the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

But he could have been. No concerto ever written is as revealing of a soloist's inner musical being as the miraculous D major concerto composed by Beethoven latein 1806.

The fist-shaking turbulence of the "Eroica" Symphony composed just three years earlier subsided as Beethoven entered a period of poetic introspection that would yield the Symphony No. 4, the G major piano concerto and his only concerto for the violin. The nobility of his vision has us scratching our heads in wonder 180 years later.

Razzle-dazzle and sheer technical bravura are stocks in trade for the fiddler, but all the pizazz in the world won't carry the day in the Beethoven concerto. A touch of vulgarity never really hurt the Bruch or Tchaikovsky concertos. (In fact, it probably helps them. Don't quote me.) But in the Beethoven, there's no place to hide. You can either play with beauty, grace and consummate artistry, or you can't. Only true musicians need apply.

In Catherine Cho, a 20-year-old prize-winning violinist from New York City's Juilliard School, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra found an eloquent artist who took her large MarylandHall audience inside the music of Beethoven at Saturday night's performance.

The central attribute of her playing is a pure, lyrical, wonderfully expressive tone that communicates readily with her listeners.

While her technical gifts are obviously immense, they are fully at the service of the music. The extraordinary demands of the first movement cadenza were met in exemplary fashion. But the extended solo interlude never seemed showy or contrived, despite the gymnastics required to negotiate the murderous writing.

In the first movement, a noticeable technical lapse seemed to unnerve the soloist briefly,but by the time the cadenza rolled around, she was once again in control.

The ASO, under guest-conductor Christopher Kendall, seemed solidly prepared and provided agreeable accompaniment.

This was a different orchestra from the ASO that scratched its way so tentatively through Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto last month.

Kendall, the associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony who is the latest entrantin this season's Annapolis conducting derby, summoned admirable clarity from the orchestra. Phrasing and intonation problems were deftly handled.

I might have wished for a greater sense of occasion in the minor key statements of the first movement theme and for a less prim and proper orchestral contribution to the rondo.

Tempos in the more rhapsodic portions of the first movement seemed a bit indulgent to me, but the beauty of Cho's playing makes this quibble all but moot. On the whole, Kendall served as an alert, supportive accompanist. Bravo.

I was also impressed with the orchestra's handling of Respighi's wonderful "Three Botticelli Pictures." Again, the word "clarity"comes to mind. The difficult wind solos were eloquently played and nicely integrated. The many shifts of meter in "La Primavera" were clearly laid out every step of the way.

Less appealing was Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony," which received a clean, often vigorous reading that ultimately just wasn't much fun.

The first movement seemed more brisk than joyful, while the second featured attractive woodwindplaying and not much else. More bounce and fine horn playing improved the performance in the third movement, but someone substituted grape juice for the Chianti in the concluding "Saltarello." "Abbondanza" it wasn't.

With his Beethoven and Respighi, however, Kendall may have indeed made his mark on the ASO's selection process.

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