5 years later, Midori rejoins BSO with greater intensity

September 12, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

When Midori, then 19, played Brahms' Violin Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony and music director David Zinman five years ago, her performance was filled with nervous intensity that made the piece fly like the wind. She joined Zinman and the orchestra last night in the same Brahms concerto in Meyerhoff Hall in the BSO's season-opening concert to give a performance that could not have been more different.

The intensity -- even more of it, perhaps -- is still there. But now it is tragic intensity, and it produced a reading that flowed like molten lava.

This was a performance that was monumental -- its duration exceeded 46 minutes -- and strong, rather than lyrical and sweet, and the excitement came from the musical chances the violinist took and from her insight, remarkable in a musician only 24 years of age, into the dark places of the Brahmsian landscape.

Though her tempos -- particularly in the first and last movements -- were deliberate, Midori's performance was passionate, urgent PTC and electric. When phrases were drawn out as they frequently were, they never sounded idiosyncratic or distended, just achingly intense.

The violinist's risk-taking extended to her dynamics, which often dropped to the softest levels imaginable. But these feather-weighted pianissimos never called attention to themselves, producing instead moments of extraordinary meditative intensity. This was not the playing of a young person trying for a kind of tragic gravity beyond her years, but that of a master who knew exactly what she wanted to say.

Zinman and the orchestra, who sympathetically supported the violinist's dark-hued interpretation, concluded the concert in even better form with the Overture (opus 21) and Incidental Music (opus 61) to Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The playing itself was nothing short of magnificent. The opening of the overture, with its diaphonous string textures and soft wind playing, could not have been more evocative. And Zinman's control of the piece throughout brought about the kind of performance that suggested a chamber-music ensemble rather than a large orchestra.

This is the kind of orchestral playing we have taken for granted in the Zinman years and should savor in the two years remaining in his music directorship.

The performance also benefited from the fine vocal contributions of soprano Anita Johnson, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, the women of the Baltimore Symphony Chorus and, most of all, from the narration of the actress Claire Bloom, who looked as beautiful as she did when she played opposite Charlie Chaplin in "Limelight" almost 45 years ago and who delivered Shakespeare's text with rare taste, imagination and musicality.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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