Midori and the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

The draw at last week­end’s con­certs of the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra, con­ducted by Thomas O’Con­nor, was Schu­mann’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo, in which the solo part was en­trusted to the vi­o­lin­ist Midori. It was one of the last works Schu­mann wrote prior to be­ing com­mit­ted to an in­sane asy­lum in early 1854, and Joseph Joachim, the vir­tu­oso for whom it was in­tended, found its short­com­ings so pal­pa­ble that he had it re­moved from public ac­cess out of re­spect for his friend. It was not pre­miered pub­licly un­til 1937, and although it has en­joyed an uptick of in­ter­est in the past two decades, per­for­mances in mod­ern times have been few and far be­tween, if not nearly as scarce as Pro Mu­sica’s pro­gram book main­tained.

Beau­ti­ful things lie within the pages of this con­certo, although not enough to keep it buoy­ant through­out its half-hour span. Midori played with the del­i­cate sen­si­bil­ity and gen­eral fi­nesse one would have an­tic­i­pated, but her ap­proach failed to dis­guise the work’s de­fi­cien­cies. In­deed, she some­times ex­ac­er­bated them. The dense, dark orches­tral ex­po­si­tion that opens the con­certo fails to gen­er­ate mo­men­tum, and she ap­par­ently hoped to counter that by in­vest­ing the vi­o­lin’s en­trance solo with a re­mark­able amount of in­ter­pre­ta­tive de­tail. This in­cluded drench­ing it in ru­bato — rhyth­mic mas­sag­ing of phrases — and that served to hold back the en­ergy even more, pre­cisely where the op­po­site was needed so des­per­ately. Schu­mann’s tempo mark­ings, which prove of­ten prob­lem­atic in this work, ad­vise the mu­si­cians to take this open­ing move­ment “not too fast.” The play­ers ad­hered to this to a nearly fa­tal de­gree. Lyri­cal grace is one thing, but this read­ing of the first move­ment kept threat­en­ing to drag to a stand­still, not helped a bit by or­ches­tra­tion that tends to­ward the gummy.

The prayer­ful slow move­ment was more suc­cess­ful, with Midori’s rich, pen­e­trat­ing tone con­vey­ing clearly plot­ted phrases more con­vinc­ingly. She made a com­mit­ted case for the fi­nale, too, bless­edly opt­ing for a tempo some 20 beats per minute faster than Schu­mann spec­i­fied. While oc­ca­sional episodes sprung to life, oth­ers came across as just noodling, and the piece never picked up much steam be­fore end­ing with a thud. There’s noth­ing wrong with re­vis­it­ing this work oc­ca­sion­ally, but even as fine a soloist as Midori tended to con­firm that Joachim’s in­stincts to squelch the piece were not en­tirely ill-ad­vised. Given more time, Schu­mann (con­sult­ing with Joachim) surely would have re­vised this con­certo greatly; but he did not have more time.

The con­cert be­gan with Beethoven’s Sym­phony No. 8 in a du­ti­ful per­for­mance that con­veyed some nice touches — most mem­o­rably an el­e­gant tran­si­tion into the trio sec­tion of the min­uet move­ment, where duet­ting horns as­sumed the lead with flaw­less se­cu­rity. More in­volv­ing on the whole was Aaron Jay Ker­nis’ Mu­sic Ce­lestis , his ex­pan­sion for string orches­tra of the slow move­ment from his 1990 String Quar­tet No. 1. It is a med­i­ta­tive, au­di­ence-friendly piece, rem­i­nis­cent of Bar­ber’s Ada­gio for Strings in its mood while also drawing on the vo­cab­u­lary of Co­p­land, Bern­stein, and, in a few grandly voiced chords, Vaughan Wil­liams’ “Tal­lis Fan­ta­sia.” The string sec­tion did it­self proud, shim­mer­ing ef­fec­tively through ex­tended pas­sages in up­per po­si­tions. To­ward the end, the over­all ef­fect was en­hanced still fur­ther by fine solo in­put from vi­o­lin­ists Stephen Red­field and El­iz­a­beth Baker and vi­o­list Kim Fre­den­burgh.

— James M. Keller

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