Performing a violin concerto by W. A. Mozart can be very revealing, considering the music's deceptive simplicity and classical elegance. It's not music that plays itself; instead, the performer has to bring his or her own sense of musical style into the interpretation. And it gets a little more complicated when you have to write all your own cadenzas!
That was the task for semi-finalists in the virtual 2020 Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition for Day 3 and Day 4 performances.
Though Mozart wrote five violin concerti, just one was featured in this round: Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218. The movements are as follows:
II. Andante cantabile
III. Rondeau (Andante grazioso – Allegro ma non troppo)
In the videos below, you can follow the written music on the right-hand side of the screen as each contestant plays. This music represents the violin part as well as some of the melody lines in the piano parts. Contestants in these videos include Yue Qian (China); Jingzhi Zhang (China); Rino Yoshimoto (Japan); Katherine Woo (United States); Thomas Lefort (France) and Marie Bégin (Canada). You can find more performances, including previous semi- and quarter-finals, on the SISIVC Youtube channel.
Yue Qian of China began this series with a clean performance with good tone, preferring much of the time to play high in position rather than using first position, particularly in the second movement. Her first-movement cadenza went minor, then proceeded with interesting double-stops; and her second-movement cadenza took some interesting turns, with different keys and chords. She seemed to enjoy the playful third movement the most and had good clean passagework in the most difficult sections of this movement.
Jingzhi Zhang of China played the first movement at a nice fast clip, and her cadenza started aggressively with double-stops and string-crossings, before calming a bit. It was pretty complicated with triple- and quadruple-stops at times. The second-movement cadenza also included some flashy technique.
Rino Yoshimoto of Japan gave an energetic performance, creating little moments of beauty between the bouncy lines. The first-movement cadenza took cues from the opening of the piece and was well-paced, including also some fancy off-the-string double-stops. The second movement was graceful, with a fitting cadenza that was on the short side. The Rondeau was spritely and appealing - Yoshimoto really has that spark in her sound that makes one want to listen. For one of the cadenzas (the ones in the third movement are very short, almost just decorations), she simply played on first three notes of the movement, a clever idea.
Violinist Katherine Woo of the United States just gives the sense that everything is under control, and then it is - elegant, articulate and assuring. For her cadenzas she used some Bach-like double-stopping and voicing to accompany herself, carrying each idea long enough for the listener to fully understand it. The final movement was joyful and buoyant.
Thomas LeFort of France showed a lot of commitment with his first-movement cadenza, which was extensive: starting with a light touch, then moving into double stops, string crossings, spiccato - the cadenza was long and virtuosic, filled with many ideas. LeFort seemed to really relish the sweet melody of the second movement. At times during the third movement the fast-passage notes fell forward a little, with some bow control issues. The cadenzas showed clever ideas.
Marie Bégin of Canada opened the concerto with decisive off-the-string bowing and she continued with an interpretation that captured the Classical-period nature of this work. Her cadenzas were tasteful and appealing, but without a lot of flashy technique. The second movement was simple and beautiful - not soaked with vibrato, which fits the music for this period. She really caught the bright spirit of the last movement as well.
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The virtual semi-finals will continue for the Shanghai competition through Saturday, when Finalists will be announced. The SISIVC plans to hold the Finals in Shanghai in 2022.
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