Midori brings freshness to Tchaikovsky concerto

Music review

January 06, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

"Music is not illusion," Tchaikovsky reportedly said, "but revelation." Last evening at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, his Violin Concerto turned out to be exactly that - a revelation.

Yes, it was, on paper, the same Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto that has been played a trillion times or more since its premiere in 1881. But it wasn't really the same work at all. The notes took on new coloring, new intensity, new depth in a memorable performance featuring Midori with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and music director Yuri Temirkanov.

This startling sense of freshness was sensed the moment Midori began to sculpt the violin's initial entrance. This solo, one of Tchaikovsky's most effective attention-grabbers, is often played as such - a quick, hey-look-at-me sort of display, before the serious business of laying out a principal theme gets under way.

Midori turned the passage into an arresting monologue that, despite its brevity, spoke volumes about the essence of musical romanticism. With a remarkable variety of tone quality and dynamics, she established the violin as the heroic, yet somehow self-effacing, center of an intense drama. Midori extracted more expressive character from those few short measures than many a fiddler manages to uncover in the whole concerto.

Throughout, the imagination and fire in her playing never flagged. She lingered over phrases that usually get scant attention, stretching out the tempo to let a fresh, lyrical point sink in. Nowhere was this more telling than in the first movement's cadenza, when Midori's exceptional control allowed her to extend perfectly formed high, soft notes and make each an exquisite poetic gesture.

The second movement's tender song could not sound much more heartfelt, the finale's giddy episodes more spirited and brilliant.

Midori did astonishing work when she was a pre-teen and a teen-ager. Not quite 30 yet, she's obviously poised to do a lot more.

The violinist enjoyed second-nature support from Temirkanov, who had the orchestra dovetailing seamlessly with her. Woodwind solos emerged with particular care.

If the Tchaikovsky performance was revelatory, the account of Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" was scarcely less so.

The last of the composer's orchestral pieces, these dances capture the essence of Rachmaninoff's style - rhapsodic melodies, with a bittersweet undercoating; sumptuous harmonies; highly sensuous, prismatic orchestration.

Temirkanov focused on the darker, richer shadows of the music - never at the expense of momentum or, in the finale, bravura. The BSO responded splendidly. The strings summoned a deep, lush sound; the woodwinds again excelled (the sax solo in the first dance was wonderfully plangent).

To begin this first program of the new century, there was - what else? - the blazing introduction to Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," popularly known, since 1968, as "The Theme from `2001: A Space Odyssey.' " Other then some unfocused brass attacks, the performance had considerable power.

The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. today. Call 410-783-8000.

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