Violinist Midori displays her power and majesty

  • Jul 9, 2013

By John Farnworth From The Register-Guard July 9, 2013 The packed house at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall on Sunday that came to see world-renowned violinist Midori is likely to remember her performance for a long time to come. Midori’s presence was one of the highlights of this year’s Oregon Bach Festival.Photo: Mike Bragg The diminutive figure appeared on stage with what appeared to be a violin too large for her. It is, in fact, the Guarnerius del Gesu “ex-Huberman” of 1734, a magnificent instrument that, in the right hands, can sound like a fine, small cello. She set about performing four of J.S. Bach’s “Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin,” considered by most professional violinists to be the Mount Everest of violin mastery. Once a classical musician has conquered these masterpieces they are considered among the best in the field.

Midori’s first selection was the Sonata in A minor, No. 2, BWV 1003. The first movement, “Grave,” was played extremely slowly and in a very small tone. I was a little concerned that its continuity might be compromised, but it became apparent that it was performed this way to contrast with the magnificent full-throated majesty that constituted the rest of her program. The second movement, “Fuga,” exhibited some stunning shifts between piano and forte phrases and some dizzying, dissonant double and triple stopping. A lovely, singing quality emerged from her instrument, and, happily, Midori used no vibrato throughout her performance, which is exactly the way this music should be played. The last movement, “Allegro,” was played powerfully, even forcefully; her facial expression here betrayed the depth of her intense involvement in this almost unbearably beautiful music.

Midori’s second piece was the Partita in B minor, No. 1, BWV 1002. The first movement, “Allemande,” was succeeded by a contrasting double, ditto for the remaining three movements. This allowed the violinist to add ornamented versions of the original movements, often adding floating grace notes to the music. The final movement, “Tempo di Bouree,” with its double, was executed with some extremely vigorous, power­ful playing and distinct phrasing, growing in intensity as the movement progressed.

After intermission, we were treated to the Partita in E major, No. 3, BWV 1006. The first movement, “Preludio,” is very familiar music, played with great power and animation, the gorgeous tone of the violin radiating out into the hushed hall. The third movement, “Gavotte,” another well-known tune, was marked, again, with artful use of grace notes; and the last two movements, “Bouree” and “Gigue,” were charged into with enormous gusto, belying the artist’s diminutive stature.

The last work, the Sonata in C major, No. 3, BWV 1005, was, perhaps the most dramatic piece of all. The second movement, “Fuga,” is a formidable, almost 10-minute tour de force, that has brought some well-known players to their knees. Midori strode blazingly through it, exhibiting her huge technique and ease of handling the polyphonic mazes of sound seemingly effortlessly. Her ability to draw different tone colors out of the music was electrifying. The last movement, “Gigue,” featured a glorious attack and running river of sound that was, quite simply, breathtaking. This is deep music; Midori plumbed its depths. An enormous roar of approving applause shattered the hall and led to numerous returns to the stage by this supremely talented woman. We won’t soon forget.

John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.

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