Printer-friendly version

Mystery soloist stuns Buri with not grotty Viotti.

November 11, 2008 at 3:22 AM


Well, I promised to write a review of an astonishing concert I went to the other by the Leader of the Vienna Philharmonic.  Weird as it might sound I have actually forgotten his name and mislaid the paper with it written in Japanese.   I googled the orchestra and checked out the three leaders but I am reluctant to say it was Rainer Honeck until I see the shaved version.  Will check with colleagues.  In the meantime,  the review.

The leader of the Vienna Philharmonic (fill in space) played a concert at Clarazaal Hall in Gifu City last weekend.  The Hall is that odd Japanese custom of retired music lovers constructing a private hall in the downstairs of their house,  seating around a hundred.  These halls are often beautiful both visually and acoustically. Clarazaal is no exception.

The maestro,  playing on the ex-Viotti Stradivarius,  began with the Bach Sarabande from the D minor partita.  It was a huge,  warm sound from the word go.  And it was minus vibrato for about half the time.  This non-fashionable approach ,  he literally just stops using vibrato for quite long periods,  became a feature of he whole performance.,  contrasting sharply with more modern approaches which use an often  small vibrato continuously (cf Znaider) and mavericks such as Mr. Gringolts who cheerfully play without for whole movements of Bach. The interpretation was very free and expressive and perpetually creamy.  In the Sarabande it was stunning.  He followed with the Chaccone.  Astonishing technique,  sound and musicianship,  but it made me a little uncomfortable,  especially the opening few sections where rhythmic regularity and overall structure seemed to be sacrificed in favor of pouring on the cream on the juicy chords, notes etc.  In the end this made an incredibly impressive performance actually a little unsatisfactory.  Freedom without discipline is not always a good thing. In particular that beautiful pp sustained d major entry was separated from the preceding passage by such a long break it sounded utterly foreign and disjointed.  I cannot recall hearing such a pause before.  Another slow movement from another partita was beautifully played and then Paginini Caprice 24.  Why anyone would do this here I don’t know because it was followed by the Andante from the A sonata…. The Paginini was splayed with tremendous élan and musicianship. It was not flawless,  especially the left hand almost came a cropper in the high chromatic variation.  However,  the overall impression was simply of someone who as a busy professional did not have the luxury to sit down and polish it to the nth degree for the winter season as players of old may have done.  Clearly in an ideal world he could eat this music for breakfast.  Superb,  but why place it in the middle of a hodge podge of Bach?

His last unaccompanied work was Kreisler rRecitative and Scherzo. I guess this was a favorite.  Never heard it better.  The rubato works here,  the technique was flawless and the schmaltzy portamento judged to a tee. He followed with the Kreutzer Sonata. 

It was clear to me that he had not worked much with the piano player on this although two musicians of this caliber can still work miracles together. That this did not quite happen was the fault of the pianist who is one of the most highly rated accompanists in Japan by many.  Not by me on this reading.  Being able to play the notes of the Kreutzer is one thing but also recognizing that the piano part is at least equal partner and dominant on many an occasion is the next step. The third is accept that as the accompanist one should at least try and adapt to the violinists interpretation and concept.  To give an example of how this did not happen,  the soon to be named maestro played the opening in a restrained ,  elegant and slightly meditative way.  Basically this is one end of the Kreutzer interpretation spectrum. The other equally valid choice is to be stormy and passionate. Both work well. However, the pianist must try to emulate the mood set. In this case the pianist took an opportunity to go to an extreme meditation version of the violinist that lost all sense of time and forward movement.  No idea what he was trying to do.   The violin part throughout the first movement was just fantastic. Time and time again the player produced more and more spectacular dynamics until it seemed the place would explode.  Incredible phrasing and technical accuracy although there was a slight `Viennese` (!) tendency to play n the sharp side.  The slow movement was equally impressive but too slow a tempo made it seem a little over long.  More on this in a moment. The last movement found the pianist being especially annoying since he was clearly trying to get the violinist to opt for a faster tempo.    No respect for the basic interpretation. 

The question of tempos in the Kreutzer is tricky but  one of my old teacher told me how Milstein told him of playing the Kreutzer with Rachmaninoff.  The latter insisted on a very light and bubbly approach to the slow movement and then a slower version of the last movement.  In my opinion this makes a lot of sense and I felt had the violinist been freer to set the tempos this would actually have happened.  Nonetheless, it was one of the most spectacular Kreutzers I have ever seen or heard form the violinist’s perspective.

One of the best concerts I have been to .

Afterwards a huge buffet and large quantities of poor quality wine were laid out and I got very drunk,  much to the amusement of everyone else.



From Paul G.
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 4:14 AM

I'm jealous! Those are all the pieces I would want to hear!

From Rosalind Porter
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 8:10 AM

If he was playing the Arnold Rose Strad then I am going to make an informed guess that it was Volkhard Steude.  Wonderful player, great instrument, sounds like a fascinating concert...

From Emily Grossman
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 9:01 AM

I like your review because you found words to express what you needed to say.  Most reviewers just enjoy finding words for the sake of finding them.  They go away with a full Easter basket, all proud of themselves.

From Emily Grossman
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 9:07 AM

I like your review because you found words to express what you needed to say.  Most reviewers just enjoy finding words for the sake of finding them.  They finish with a full Easter basket, all proud of themselves.

From Emily Grossman
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 9:08 AM

I was so proud of my opinion, I thought I'd post it twice.

Someone give me a delete button, please.

From Graham Clark
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 1:31 PM

Great review, Buri, thank you. Made me feel as though I had poked my ear through the door.



From Corwin Slack
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 1:58 PM

 Prune wine?

From Craig Coleman
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 11:35 PM

Hi Buri,

Thanks for your blog, sounds like you had a good time. I was just reading about that violin in Faber's Stradivari's Genius and didn't know where it was. It's good to know it's in capable hands.



From Stephen Brivati
Posted via on November 12, 2008 at 10:14 PM


Rosalind,  a million thanks. Tha`s him.  I called a Japanese colleauge last night but the best English they could come up with from the katakana was Wolkart Shutohide.  Dounded embarrasingly Japanese to me....;)

What wa sinteresting when I researched the blogs of these leaders is the incredibly strong connection they have with Japan.  One of them is also guest concert master of the Osaka Symphony orchestra . That incidentlaoly is about to close down with the sudden withfrawal of funding.  One of Japan`s great orchestras.    Another tragedy. 



From Rosalind Porter
Posted via on November 13, 2008 at 1:33 AM

Glad to be able to help Buri, he's a great violinist, (by the way, why does everyone call you Buri and not Stephen?!)

I know the Vienna Phil have had close relationships with Japan for many years, and they seem to have done very well financially from their visits.  I think the band kind of hooked on to the growing interest in Western music in Japan at just the right time and made the most of their opportunities.  Going to concerts in the Musikverein I was always surprised at the high percentage of Japanese visitors in the audience.

It is rather worrying to hear that Japanese orchestras are suffering economically too... where will it all end.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine