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Midori Disappoints

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
01/05/2011 -  & January 6*, 2011
Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto for Violin in D Major, opus 61
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, “The Great”, D. 944

Midori (Violin)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano (Conductor)

Midori (© T. Greenfield-Sanders)

“Quelle déception!” My subscribers’ program brochure for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) lists for last week’s concerts Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, Hindemith’s Concerto for Violin and, for the second half, Schubert’s Ninth Symphony. An odd and ambitious program. I had been ecstatic for weeks at the prospect of hearing Midori play the Hindemith, an enormously treacherous, massive and exciting work that I had never heard performed live. Alas, when I was seated and opened the night’s program, I saw that not only had the Mendelssohn been dropped but the Hindemith had been replaced by Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. I had already heard Hillary Hahn give a routine performance of this work last summer but tried to remain optimistic.

Like Hahn before her, Midori performed it with integrity and respect. Each note was perfectly placed, and she mostly played right on the note. She followed the dynamic markings scrupulously (except for a few staccato markings) and her technique and tone were flawless. Like Hahn before her, however, Midori’s performance lacked warmth and, worse, spirit. Her sound was small, perhaps the reason why Nagano reduced the OSM to chamber size. And the tempos were slow. But I, for one, am tired of this minimalist approach to “classic” composers, especially the later ones. I know that the music of Haydn and Mozart can sing and dance, despite certain interpreters’ efforts to the contrary. But there is no reason one can’t put a little life and personality into middle Beethoven. My guest fell asleep during the first movement and when I woke him, explained that it was because he had been listening to a “berceuse” (a lullaby)!

Midori’s stage presence reminded me of one of Degas’ women taking a bath in a tub. She hunched over her violin and looked at the floor for most of the evening without a hint that she was enjoying her performance. It reminded me of Isaac Stern’s advice to budding violinists, when he was once touring the Far East, to always hold the violin horizontally to the floor at shoulder height.

Midori used the Kreisler cadenzas for the first and last movements, and none for the second.

The full orchestra was on stage in the second half for a more lively reading of Schubert’s Ninth. An edgy, pulsating rhythm marked the first movement but the performance seemed to lack focus during the last three. Everyone played well, but a lack of cohesion was evident in the orchestra. Nagano’s conducting was spirited but cautious. Like Midori, he seemed to be afraid to take risks, to put a personal stamp on the work. This piece is a genuine workout for the horns and brass and they acquitted themselves well. The woodwinds also played admirably.

Earl Arthur Love



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