The Beethoven Violin Concerto is a tightrope walk for the soloist, its stratospheric passages leaving not even a fraction of a millimeter for error for that lone voice at the top.
With violinist Michael Barenboim, soloist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with conductor Jeffrey Kahane on Saturday night at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, Calif., his balance never faltered. A solid presence, efficient and effective in his movements, he produced a beautiful and pristine line of sound, varied in its color and nuance. With everything so well in hand, one could simply relax and enjoy the heights.
Barenboim, for those wondering at the name, is the son of the well-known conductor Daniel Barenboim and pianist Elena Bashkirova. (Here is our interview with Michael Barenboim.) Barenboim, 29, was born in Paris and resides in Berlin. He is the concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and has played as a soloist all over the world.
On Saturday, Barenboim played his own cadenzas, highly technical creations full of trills, bariolage, octaves, 10ths, double-stop voicing. More and more violinists are performing with their own cadenzas, but it's still a bit rare. I enjoyed watching Barenboim's personality take center stage, playing the virtuosic passages that came from his own explorations, and hearing how Beethoven's ideas emerge and take different shapes. The first-movement cadenza ended particularly well, with a beautiful segue into the quiet voice at the end of the movement.
For those who complain that "violinists these days" apply one type of vibrato to all notes, the second movement showed that at least this violinist deployed many varieties of vibrato, along with a lovely and arresting sotto voce where needed. By the third movement, everyone seemed completely at ease and having a great time. (Conductor Kahane was so buoyant, I though he was going to start dancing with the cello section!) In sum, Barenboim was the whole package, and I'll be happy to see his solo career grow, as it certainly will, in the future. As an encore, he played the
"Largo" from Bach's solo Sonata No. 3-- unfortunately to some unexpected accompaniment, as the after-concert festivities -- which involved some African drumming -- accidentally started a bit too soon!
Earlier in the concert was the world premiere of a piece called "Prism, Cycles, Leaps" by Los Angeles-based composer Derrick Spiva. A clever and compelling piece, it was full of off-kilter rhythms and exotic musical scenery. At times it seemed minimalist, with waves of repeating note patterns. Various orchestra members occasionally stood to clap -- come to think of it, clapping is a rather underutilized form of percussion in the typical symphony piece! While it was obviously a piece of tremendous rhythmic complexity, I found myself wishing that the orchestra could have negotiated it with a more decisive attitude and easy joy, and less tense rhythmic calculation. Nonetheless the piece was a hit, and the composer was in the house to receive the well-deserved applause.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra also performed Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. A piece played by many a high school orchestra (and many a violinist carries those aural scars), it was a treat to hear it done with such finesse.
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