Vi­o­lin­ist daz­zles on daunt­ing con­certo

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - DATEBOOK - By Joshua Kosman

A per­for­mance of Shostakovich’s First Vi­o­lin Con­certo is noth­ing to take lightly, ei­ther for the per­form­ers or the au­di­ence. The mu­sic digs in deep, across four weighty move­ments and one of the com­poser’s trade­mark mas­sive ca­den­zas for the soloist, and there are chal­lenges for ev­ery­one in­volved.

In her im­pres­sive show­ing with the San Fran­cisco Sym­phony in Davies Sym­phony Hall on Thurs­day, Nov. 8, vi­o­lin­ist Karen Gomyo didn’t in­sult our in­tel­li­gence by mak­ing the thing seem easy. On the con­trary — she matched the com­poser step for de­mand­ing step, pro­duc­ing a ren­di­tion that gleamed with the sweat of hon­est la­bor.

To­gether with guest con­duc­tor Jakub Hrusa, Gomyo — a Ja­panese-born vir­tu­oso who now lives in Ber­lin — dived into

Shostakovich’s show­piece with an ob­vi­ous re­spect for both the tech­ni­cal and in­ter­pre­tive dif­fi­cul­ties ahead. The com­bi­na­tion of craggy rhetoric, ca­pa­cious for­mal scale and sheer fin­ger­bust­ing pas­sage­work that in­fuses this con­certo means that any­one can go astray at any mo­ment.

Yet, by the time the piece drew to a close nearly 40 min­utes later, Gomyo and Hrusa in part­ner­ship had con­ferred an air of tri­umph on the pro­ceed­ings. Shostakovich’s ex­pan­sive lines of thought, which can of­ten seem dis­cur­sive and even me­an­der­ing in the wrong hands, emerged here with a wel­come sense of for­mal taut­ness; the com­poser’s acrid sen­si­bil­i­ties sounded invit­ing with­out los­ing their es­sen­tial char­ac­ter.

Gomyo’s play­ing boasts a bold, steely beauty, which at least in this con­text made few con­ces­sions to tra­di­tional no­tions of lyri­cism or ex­pres­sive warmth. (Her en­core, a lovely ac­count of the fourth of Astor Pi­az­zolla’s “Six Tango Etudes,” of­fered a more overtly em­pa­thetic voice, though even here she made sure to keep the rhythms crisp and mus­cu­lar.)

In the con­certo’s broad open­ing move­ment, which the com­poser la­beled “Noc­turne,” Gomyo spun out long-breathed melodies with un­flinch­ing forthright­ness, as if en­cour­ag­ing the lis­tener to revel in the mu­sic’s dark, sinewy tex­tures. The bustling scherzo — equally dark, even more cor­ro­sive — got a fe­ro­cious, pre­cise read­ing.

But the glory of the per­for­mance came in the ro­bust third­move­ment Pas­sacaglia, which is also the con­certo’s cen­ter of grav­ity. In this suc­ces­sion of vari­a­tions on a theme, Gomyo brought out one char­ac­ter of the mu­sic af­ter an­other, en­gag­ing in elo­quent coun­ter­point with other mem­bers of the or­ches­tra, de­liv­er­ing the solo part with in­sight and tact, and fi­nally set­tling in to give a bravura ac­count of the huge solo ca­denza.

Hrusa, the young Czech con­duc­tor mak­ing a sec­ond ap­pear­ance with the Sym­phony af­ter a strong de­but last year, matched her in both in­ten­sity and stolid power, qual­i­ties that came through again af­ter in­ter­mis­sion.

Borodin’s Sym­phony No. 2, in its first Sym­phony per­for­mance in more than a quar­ter cen­tury, got a coiled, ex­plo­sive and briskly paced ren­di­tion, in which Hrusa leaned heav­ily on the orac­u­lar pro­nounce­ments of the first move­ment and the vivid en­ergy of the fi­nale. In be­tween, Robert Ward im­parted a win­some ten­der­ness to the French horn solo that opens the slow move­ment.

Hrusa con­cluded with the Suite from Bartók’s bal­let “The Mirac­u­lous Man­darin,” a rush of or­ches­tral color and vi­vac­ity that fea­tured won­der­fully sin­u­ous con­tri­bu­tions from prin­ci­pal clar­inetist Carey Bell. The rush of mo­men­tum lead­ing into the suite’s fi­nal mo­ments seemed to draw sus­te­nance from all that had come be­fore.

By the time the piece drew to a close nearly 40 min­utes later, vi­o­lin­ist Karen Gomyo and con­duc­tor Jakub Hrusa had con­ferred an air of tri­umph on the pro­ceed­ings.

Gabrielle Re­vere

Vi­o­lin­ist Karen Gomyo dived into Shostakovich’s First Vi­o­lin Con­certo with an un­flinch­ing forthright­ness.

Zbynek Maderyc

Czech con­duc­tor Jakub Hrusa made his sec­ond ap­pear­ance with the S.F. Sym­phony.

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