Friday, March 24, 2000

Mature Midori gives dazzling performance

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Midori will always be remembered as the first of a new golden age of extraordinary young violinists, a prodigy who made her debut at age 11 with the New York Philharmonic.

        Today, Midori is 28 and a mature artist with a distinctive personality. But even as she matures, she seems to be redefining herself. Her performance of Beethoven's D Major Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night was eloquent and spacious — but so slow at times as to appear indulgent.

        From the first note, her tone was refined and mellifluous, and she spun a seamless golden line that was quite captivating. She does not have a big tone, but she knows how to communicate to the audience, and her intonation is razor-sharp.

        Her technique is dazzling. In the faster passages, Midori hunched into her violin, hair flying, and she never made a harsh sound. Her phrasing was always musical, and the first movement cadenza (by Kreisler) was a stunning feat of double-stops. The finale, a genial dance, was magical for its lightness.

        The first movement, though, lacked the undercurrent of tension that makes it Beethoven, and the second movement got progressively slower. It wasn't until the finale that the audience of 2,364 had a glimpse of fireworks. Midori was rewarded with an instant standing ovation.

        Jesus Lopez-Cobos kept the orchestra at a good balance, and followed her well, despite the somewhat erratic tempos.

        The evening opened with the CSO premiere of And the Rhythm Is Just A Little Bit Off by Minneapolis native Michael Karmon, 30.

        An engaging and well-crafted work, it is tonal and rhythmic and often recalls Leonard Bernstein's jazzy exuberance.

        The first section was a perpetual motion of running figures, with frequent meter changes and syncopations. A languid middle section was highlighted by poignant orchestral solos in violin, viola and cello.

        The composer is gifted in his abili ty to create varied textures and attractive melodies, and it will be interesting to watch his career. Mr. Karmon was present to take a bow.

        Arnold Schoenberg's large-scale tone poem, Pelleas und Melisande, completed the program's first half. Not heard here since 1986, the work is in the composer's late-romantic vein, not in the dissonant 12-tone method he practiced later.

        It is descriptive music, which follows the story from Maeterlinck's play in four large connected movements. Mr. Lopez-Cobos demonstrated the motives tied to main characters before the work was played.

        The piece was well-paced, but the motives did not always penetrate the full orchestral sound; Pelleas' love theme in the cello (Eric Kim) was one of many that was covered up.

        There was also little variety of dynamic range or phrasing. The death of Melisande, for instance, might have been more haunting. So, while the sound was opulent and Straussian, the performance was not a moving one.

        The CSO repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday in Music Hall. Tickets: 381-3300.


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