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WCO: Geminiani, Vivaldi
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Program
Geminiani: Concerto Grosso La Follia
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Performers
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
Jae-Kyung Kim, violin
David Crosby, conductor

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Using suitably small-scale forces, David Crosby conducted the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Friday evening in a program of Italian Baroque string music that harkened back to the best days in this group's history. Playing in the generally bright and clear acoustic of the First Congregational Church, the WCO treated us to some outstanding solo playing, both by regular orchestra members and by guest violinist Jae-Kyung Kim. Once again -- what a sad refrain -- one's ears were occasionally assaulted by screaming intonation problems in the violin section. No one expects a note-perfect performance, but a pianist who played quite consistently on the cracks between the keys would have no career at all. The analogy isn't perfect, since a violinist's tuning problems usually add up to playing not quite the right pitch, rather than the note next door to the one in the score. String music, as does vocal music, also features various shadings of the pitch for expressive effect, but no expressive intent could account for the many raw edges we heard in this concert. It's a basically good group, but it needs to meet a much higher standard in this matter.

The program opened with Geminiani's Concerto Grosso "La Follia", a theme- and-23-variations work with generally alternating fast and slow movements. The piece nicely shows the main idea of concerto grosso, the contrast of the group as a whole against a smaller, more soloistic group. The variation form permits the latter group to comprise now a couple violins, then perhaps a trio of violin, viola, and continuo, and so forth. As to interpretation, the faster sections were for the most part quite crisp and clean, without being rigid. The slower ones, though, seemed to me rather over-interpreted, having too flaccid a pulse and too legato an articulation. This made them thick and heavy, inappropriate to a style that is generally airy and light. There were, however, some standout solo moments, most brilliantly the cello playing of Anton TenWolde.

It wasn't only the cello that got a workout in the evening's main fare, a performance of the fiendishly difficult set of violin concertos by Vivaldi known as The Four Seasons. The four very different works all follow the fast-slow-fast sequence of movements. But that and the instrumentation are about the only common factors in the four pieces. Ever since a famous recording some years ago shattered traditional approaches to The Four Seasons, controversy has raged in period music circles on how this music should be played. What had heretofore been seen as sweet (though flashy) salon playing had become a wildly chaotic, dramatic, and rather arbitrary jumble of tempos, dynamic outbursts, and other nontraditional effects. Crosby seems to have chosen a somewhat middling course, for there was considerable variety in tempi, phrasing and dynamics, without anything like the more extreme contrasts.

Kim's playing of the solo violin was impressive. There are many passages in the four works that are well-nigh impossible to negogiate gymnastically. She had all that under excellent control throughout. Indeed she played everything with absolute polish. She has a reserve, a slight holding back of emotion, that always leaves me wanting her to push just a bit nearer the edge of musical disaster, so to speak. But it's a very small detail in a performance that was otherwise as committed and intense as a person could hope for.

A good concert, in parts even great.

Isthmus, September, 1993
Copyright 1993 Jess Anderson




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