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The Week in Reviews, Op. 31: Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Karen Gomyo in concert

Robert Niles

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Published: May 13, 2014 at 4:59 PM [UTC]

In an effort to promote the coverage of live music, each week brings you links to reviews of notable violin performances from around the world.

Joshua Bell performed "Tzigane" and the Sibelius with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and a chorus of cell phones (really)

  • The Star-Ledger: "After the hushed, undulating tremolo that opened the Sibelius on an otherworldly note, Bell began a performance that deftly balanced rhapsodic lyricism and steely resolve. The piece's structural integrity and the soloists' intention remained sure throughout, including in a skillfully wrought cadenza."

Joshua Bell
Photo by Eric Kabik, courtesy the artist

Gil Shaham performed the new Bright Sheng Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra

  • The Guardian: "Shaham played it eloquently, and was clearly loving every minute."
  • Seen and Heard International: "Shaham’s tone was astonishingly rich and he projected without force through the full orchestra; but, after a while melodic and rhythmic motifs, and phrases structures felt somewhat repetitive."

(Gil Shaham spoke to us last October about this new concerto, here is that interview.)

Benjamin Beilman performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for the American premiere of Zhou Long’s “Tales From the Nine Bells”

  • The New York Times: "...the surprise highlight of the evening came when Mr. Beilman and Mr. Thedeen paired up for a superlative performance of Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello. Here was that elusive unknown unknown: a work that at first glance appeared to be no more than an academic exercise in folk-music transcription yet turned into a riveting drama."

Benjamin Beilman also performed the Mendelssohn with the Chicago Philharmonic

  • Chicago Classical Review: "His playing is confident and his technique assured, but his phrasing and his dynamics had little variance until he reached the development, when he cut back his vibrato and sound. Greater musical expressivity revealed itself in the Andante….The finale, too, had extraordinary interplay between Beilman and the winds and a generally lighter approach more appropriate to the music."

Karen Gomyo performed the Mendelssohn with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Ottawa Citizen: "Under Gomyo’s magical fingers, the concerto was a joy from start to finish. The opening was especially fine, the febrile sensibility of Mendelssohn’s emotional world beautifully understood and projected through tone and musical shape. Gomyo also showed a full mastery of the virtuoso element, the rapid passages performed cleanly and with spot-on tuning."

Michael Ludwig performed the Mendelssohn with the Omaha Symphony

  • Omaha World-Herald: "He fronted Felix Mendelssohn's popular Violin Concerto in E Minor with an impassioned crispness that infected the ensemble and inspired extended cheers from a modestly-sized but appreciative audience."

Paul Huang performed the Barber at the 53rd Young Concert Artists Gala Concert in New York

  • The New York Times: "His warm, glowing sound and youthful energy were perfect for the opening movement of this justly popular work, in which a soaring melodic line flows atop the harmonically charged, restless orchestra. Yet, Mr. Huang was also alert to surprising melodic shifts and rhythmic twists in the violin part."

Kenneth Johnston performed the Beethoven with the BlueWater Chamber Orchestra

  • The Plain Dealer: "The highlight by far was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Concertmaster Kenneth Johnston treated the audience to a suave, magisterial reading suitable to a stage and musical forces several times larger than those at Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights."

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Bach Chaconne in recital in San Francisco

  • The San Francisco Chronicle: " was fitting that the Chaconne marked the magnificent high point of Sunday's solo recital by violinist Christian Tetzlaff. In a performance that gathered together all of the various strengths that had been on display all evening - and skirted the occasional weak points as well - Tetzlaff offered a tour through this one musical utterance that was almost stunning in its eloquence and scope."

Leonidas Kavakos performed the Berg with the New York Philharmonic

  • The New York Times: "...Mr. Haitink’s tempos were strangely inert, the drama missing. The noted violinist Leonidas Kavakos was a clear yet faceless soloist, and the orchestra’s playing, too, lacked vividness: a black-and-white textbook reproduction of an Expressionist painting."

Jennifer Frautschi performed the Beethoven with the San Luis Obispo Symphony

  • New Times: "Frautschi danced as she played the heroic solo parts and cadenzas as though the spirit of the composer were in a state of becoming, and she was wrestling it into presence. Cadenzas became essays in the violin as a medium for the giant sound-world Beethoven carried in his head."

Simone Lamsma performed Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

  • Birmingham Post: "Simone Lamsma was soloist (we don't need to be told she's "glamorous", as a London broadsheet once trilled), and brought an impassioned outpouring of line and texture to the music, Orozcoada and the orchestra collaborating with measured sonority. This was a committed reading of a perhaps over-rated work. Lamsma's Bach encore was calming balm in a disturbing evening."

Benjamin Schmid performed Mozart's G major Violin Concerto with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

  • The New Zealand Herald: "Mozart's G major Violin Concerto was the delight we expected. McCreesh set a level of freshness and bonhomie in the orchestral introduction that never departed. Working with German soloist Benjamin Schmid there was always a sense of camaraderie and adventure."

We'd love to hear about any recent concerts and recitals you've attended, too. Or just tell us in the comments what you think about these reviews!

Posted on May 13, 2014 at 7:20 PM
"Simone Lamsma was soloist (we don't need to be told she's 'glamorous')..."

Neither do we ... so why repeat it?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 13, 2014 at 10:11 PM
Always interesting to see what the critics are writing these days, eh?

From Paul Deck
Posted on May 14, 2014 at 1:34 AM
The above comment from "" was from me. Sorry, I was not logged in. I do absolutely love this "week in reviews" feature, it's very fun to read.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 14, 2014 at 2:26 PM
I enjoy helping Robert put this together; I pull the quotes for it. Reading all these reviews every week drives home for me the fact that the quality of the writing, and thinking, about classical music is all over the map. It's clear that some news outlets hire inexperienced stringers to write reviews, and often they are just painful -- such a disconnect, between the fine artists being reviewed, and the quality of the writing.

On the other hand, I see some brilliant and inspiring work from independent thinkers. This week, I enjoyed this quote (written by Ronni Reich of The Star-Ledger) about the Joshua Bell's Sibelius (I didn't include it because it's a bit long for the format):

"There's a moment in the first movement in which the show of robustness gives way to an impassioned yet intimate repetition of a few notes, vaults upward a third and sinks back down. It's a passage that can give the effect of the player baring his soul, and Bell saved his most luxurious, shining timbre for that point and then drew out the poignant descent that followed when the phrase returned.

The definiteness of choices such as that one, as well as the emotional power with which the soloist communicated, demonstrated his particular gift for showing control without restraint."

"Control without restraint" -- well-said.

From Paul Deck
Posted on May 16, 2014 at 7:11 PM
Yes, I agree, that's nicely stated.

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