Technical wizardry highlights pleasant `Sounds of the Spirits'

Heifetz faculty members deliver diverse program

July 22, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In the first of three valedictory concerts of their 1999 season, the faculty members of Daniel Heifetz's International Music Institute performed a diverse musical program at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis on Friday evening.

Billed as "Sounds of the Spirits," the selections flirted with the theme of spirituality in music, but wound up being more of a pleasant hodgepodge of pieces these three violinists, two pianists, violist and cellist like to play.

The thread connecting "Kol Nidrei," Max Bruch's take on Judaism's Yom Kippur liturgy, Tartini's fire-breathing "Devil's Trill" Sonata, the pristine opening Largo from J. S. Bach's 4th Violin Sonata, and the brief middle movement of Beethoven's sublime G Major Piano Concerto (heard in an arrangement for string quintet and keyboard) proved undetectable.

It was impossible to come away from the concert unimpressed by the technical wizardry of the participants. Heifetz plays with the plummy tone of a world-class virtuoso.

Heifetz's associate, Marc Ramirez, flew all over the fiddle negotiating Paganini's fiendish 5th Caprice in fine style.

Violinist Olivia Hajioff, cellist Douglas Poplin and violist Seljuk Kardan are gifted instrumentalists, while Micah Yui and Eun-ah Ha provided exemplary support from the keyboard.

Alas, technical prowess tended to overshadow musical integrity; there was far too much exhibitionism on display for my taste.

Of course, I admire musicians who refuse to play it safe and do their utmost to communicate their passion for the music. And, surely, there's no way to remain standoffish while knocking down a Paganini Caprice or selling the delightfully tacky Vitali "Chaconne," which has apparently become Heifetz's signature work. (He played the orchestral version at an Annapolis Symphony Camerata concert last season.)

But neither do I crave a gentle Bach sonata pounded out of shape by distended phrases and kitschy dynamic contrasts that don't belong.

Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" loses its spiritual eloquence when the cello solo is so incendiary that it quickly goes out of tune. A Wieniawski Caprice can be marvelous fun, but not when beautiful tone and general intelligibility are lost because the performers are so busy wowing the audience that they forget to make it sound like nice music.

I invite our gifted visitors to ease back on the throttle. Music can speak eloquently if performers will allow it to, and audiences will be every bit as appreciative.

Less Dionysus, ladies and gentlemen, and more Apollo, if you please.

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