Intimate artistry wins over audience
By James Bash
For The Register-Guard
Published: Thursday, July 5, 2007
Midori, the great violin virtuoso, came to the Oregon Bach Festival on Tuesday and flat out wowed everyone with an incredibly beautiful and spellbinding interpretation of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.
Her performance was part of an all-Mendelssohn concert with the Festival Orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Kahane. The other two works on the program were the "Overture to `A Midsummer Night's Dream,' " and the Symphony No. 5 in D Major "Reformation."
When Midori stepped out onto the stage, the orchestra members snapped to attention, and you knew that you were going to hear something special. From the first few notes she played, she seemed to take us into the heart of Mendelssohn's masterpiece. The orchestra, tuned into her presence, seemed to channel her every nuance, and that heightened the performance.
Like many other high-caliber artists, each note was impeccably played, but Midori led us into the music by making it more intimate. She made ultra high notes vanish into thin air. She effortlessly varied the speed and texture of each phrase. She didn't try to bowl us over with a loud sound or with needless flamboyance; she just caressed the music.
It's all the more incredible to think that Midori has probably performed this concerto over a thousand times, and yet she can still get into a zone and deliver a rich and beautiful performance. I have heard this concerto played by top-tier artists many times, but I think that Midori's playing took the music to an even higher level. The audience responded with a standing ovation that brought her back to center stage several times.
The Festival Orchestra opened the concert with a ragged performance of the "Overture to `A Midsummer Night's Dream.' " I don't know if the ensemble didn't rehearse this piece enough, but I heard some uncharacteristically choppy playing by the violins. Also, the woodwinds blurted one of their entries instead of using a softer and more elegant touch. And the brass, on a descending scale, seemed to crash into the strings near the end of the piece. The overall result was a "Midsummer" without the magic.
Fortunately, the orchestra recovered its bearings for an inspired rendition of Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony, which it played after the intermission. The first movement showed plenty of dynamic and organic crescendos and decrescendos. The orchestra's playing of an ascending four-note motive, a quotation of the "Dresden Amen," provided a refreshing and a reflective pause within the larger scope of the piece.
The second movement contained cheerful and joyful dance-like tunes that made me want to tap my feet. The orchestra created numerous, light-hearted sonic effects like when the woodwinds, starting from a strong, loud vantage point, gradually melted away into the rest of the ensemble. It was as if one section of the orchestra took over the dance from another section, and they all had fun doing it.
The third movement also felt energized and engaging. The strings seamlessly traded the theme among their sections and laid the groundwork for the fourth movement, which contains phrases from the Protestant chorale, "A mighty fortress is our God." This movement brought the symphony to a triumphant conclusion.
In general, every section of the orchestra blended well with each other throughout the piece. The brass never tried to overwhelm the strings and the ensemble played with precision and attention to detail. So it was a delight to take in all of the sound. Kahane was very innovative in his pacing. The piece never bogged down or become ponderous. Instead, Kahane and the Festival Orchestra created a light and playful canvas that the audience enjoyed from beginning to end.
Music critic James Bash of Portland writes for the American Record Guide, The Columbian, The Register-Guard and other publications.