Pamela Frank soars in Dvorak concerto

Music review

April 04, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The subtitle for Samuel Richardson's novel "Pamela" is "Virtue Rewarded." It thus cannot be an easy name to live up to, but Pamela Frank did so last night in Meyerhoff Hall when she played Dvorak's Violin Concerto in A Minor with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

She is a wonderful player -- one of the very best of our time, I think -- and she gave as fine a performance of this piece as anyone is likely to hear for a long time.

The virtue that is rewarded in this preternaturally mature young violinist -- she is only 24 -- is her open-heartedness, an emotional generosity that suffuses every note of her playing. That was particularly remarkable in the way she sang the serenely arching melody of the concerto's slow movement and stormed through its passionate central section.

Unlike a few other musicians of her generation who seem to want to be known for their heart-on-sleeve approaches, Frank also has the violinistic goods. Her playing was always beautifully in tune, as lovely in bravura passages as in quiet ones, and she fearlessly (and accurately) negotiated the concerto's sonorous octaves and sweeping arpeggios.

In the second half of the concert, Frank changed her glamorous gown -- she's the most visually striking violinist to come to Baltimore since Nigel Kennedy (and more pleasingly so, too) -- for a black dress so that she could unobtrusively join the orchestra's second violins for a performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 ("Winter Dreams").

This is an unusual thing for a soloist to do, but the cellist Yo-Yo Ma frequently does the same thing when he performs with Zinman.

If they love playing under him, it was easy to see why in last night's performance. "Winter Dreams" is hardly a masterpiece, but it certainly sounded like one.

Zinman made the most of the this music's balletic grace (in the first and third movements), its vulnerable tenderness (in the nocturnal third movement) and its brassy bluster (in the fourth movement).

The orchestra played magnificently, and there were some wonderful solos by flutist Emily Controulis and oboist Joseph Turner.

The concert began with a spirited performance of Jaromir Weinberger's Polka and Fugue from his opera, "Schwanda the Bagpiper." Zinman's performance realized all of the work's folkloric humor and its mischievous ridicule of academic pomposity. The delicious fugue, like all else on the program, was beautifully played.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 p.m. and tomorrow afternoon at 3.

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