Midori, McDonald dazzle

October 22, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The violin and piano recital of Midori and Robert McDonald Wednesday evening at Friedberg Hall at the Peabody Conservatory can be characterized simply as beautiful, big-hearted and brilliant.

The last of these adjectives refers as much to the remarkable intelligence of the musicians as to their flabbergastingly high level of instrumental accomplishment.

The sold-out recital, for which both artists donated their services to benefit the conservatory's piano scholarship fund, was cunningly planned. Each half of the program contrasted the textures of a classically designed work with a romantically inclined one: Mozart's Sonata in A Major (K. 526)and John Corigliano's Sonata before intermission, and Schoenberg's "Phantasy" and Franck's Sonata in A Major afterward.

The violinist and pianist played Mozart in a manner that respected 18th century parameters of size and elegance. In no way, however, was this the Dresden china approach to Mozart so popular nowadays. Midori and McDonald performed the piece in a passionate, perpetually singing manner.

Nearly 10 years ago, still in her teens, Midori had the good sense to decide to work with McDonald, one of the finest pianists of his generation. She knows the sonata literature is about musical conversation, communication and conflict. When Midori and McDonald play, the piano lid -- as it rarely is in recitals by superstar violinists -- is fully opened.

This worked to the advantage of the lush Corigliano Sonata as it did to the more ethereal Mozart. Written more than 30 years ago for Corigliano's father, the former concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic, it has finally found a deserved niche in the repertory. But the way Midori and McDonald played the piece made the members of another celebrated duo who have taken up the Corigliano challenge -- violinists Joshua Bell and pianist Emmanuel Ax -- sound like a pair of 97-pound weaklings. Schoenberg's thorny "Phantasy" was played with the kind of laser-beam intensity that illuminated its elegantly drawn but musically dense lines. And the Franck Sonata received a heart-stoppingly beautiful, exhilarating performance that left one limp.

The felicities of the reading were many, but one unforgettable moment came at the end of the slow movement. Midori slowed the tempo (and her vibrato) down so that time seemed to stop. It was the sort of risk that one rarely encounters -- intonation is almost impossible to sustain, thus leaving the violinist dangerously exposed. But Midori lives dangerously because she knows that fearlessness is the pathway to expressiveness.

It made for one of this listener's greatest experiences in more than 40 years of concert-going.

Pub Date: 10/22/99

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