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Ionarts-at-Large: Midori, Jansons, And Most of All: Lutosławski

The violinist Midori brings to mind the image of a precocious teen-sensation, but on the stage of the Philharmonic Hall in Munich this Friday one saw instead a mature, middle aged woman of Norn-like appearance who evokes airs of wisdom. Playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, she began with a most delicate pianissimo, a daring quiet of enormous intensity. She has a very particular tone, clear, bright, and very alert, and a colleague described it fittingly, if somewhat uncharitably, as fingertips pulled along a piece of Styrofoam. The whole thing was supported with the very refined elasticity of the meticulous BRSO that followed every pull and push of Midori with implicit understanding. Her captivating cadenzas of the concerto, sometimes subject to waning audience attention in the hands of lesser soloists, hung in the large, sold-out hall with acute accuracy. This Tchaikovsky wasn’t primarily about beauty, much less romantic slop, and sounded civil even during the twitching intensity that led to moderated sumptuousness. Remarkable what quality playing and great precision can achieve, without needing an explicit interpretation.

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Tchaikovsky (& DSCH), Violin Concertos,
Midori / Abbado / BPh

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Lutosławski (& Bartók), Concerto(s) for Orchestra,
P. Järvi / Cinncinati SO

A hearting amount of the BRSO’s subscription audience remained for Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra. Some of them may not have cared for it entirely (you can tell by the number of coughs between movements), but the act of listening and giving the music (and its performers) the benefit of the doubt alone will have made it easier for them to appreciate good music in the future, even if it is ‘difficult’. (Perhaps a telling reminder when the upcoming concert of the BRSO features Gurrelieder.)

Not that Lutosławski’s concerto—not just the title is related to Bartók—is particularly difficult. Composed between 1950 and ’54, at a time when the composer was moving from neo-classicism to something closer resembling Bartók’s folk-modernism, the work is gripping, short on dissonance and long on sharp contrast and driving rhythms. This is music of a rare invigorating quality, full of different shades, timbres, and various levels of textures without being a saturated Technicolor bonbon: clarity and a sense of cool remain even during the glowing brass passages and the intoxicating finale. What an awe-some concerto to explore—and to explore as fine an orchestra as the BRSO with. It’s precisely the kind of work the Bavarians seem made to perform. By the end of it, the entire (remaining) audience was won over.

You can hear the live broadcast of tomorrow's concertfeaturing Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony instead of the Violin Concertoat BR Klassik.