Friday, April 18, 2014

1990 IVCI laureate David Kim gives special zing to Ronen Chamber Ensemble program

David Kim participated throughout, and his contributions were vital.
You could tell from the way David Kim and Rohan De Silva played the Gavotte with Two Variations in Igor Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne" that the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis' annual collaborative concert with the Ronen Chamber Ensemble would be something special.

The opening piece on the concert Thursday night did not involve the durable chamber-music organization co-directed by David Bellman and Ingrid Fischer-Bellman. But the quality of the guest artists helped ensure that the rising tide of Kim and De Silva would lift all musical boats. The audience that nearly filled the Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center seemed to agree by the time the concert wrapped up with Erno Dohnanyi's Sextet in C major for piano, violin, viola, cello, clarinet and horn.

That one Stravinsky movement had an adroit blend of 18th-century poise and 20th-century modernist detachment. The two variations were lent independent profiles, following the crisply characterized gavotte theme. The whole suite was played with distinction, but the gavotte-and-variations confirmed  how insightful artists can impart personality to emotionally reserved music.

De Silva and Kim, a 1990 IVCI laureate who is now concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, were also in the spotlight after intermission, performing Brahms' Sonata No. 2 in A major, op. 100. Admirable was the linking of contrasting episodes in the second movement, utterly natural as it unrolled. Kim's bow control and phrasing were exquisite in the finale, and the tone got a rich exhibition with the music's focus on the violin's lower range.

Kim's involvement in the other two works on the program was crucial to their success. But it couldn't do much to sustain my interest in John Corigliano's "Soliloquy" for clarinet and string quartet. Adapted from a movement of the composer's Clarinet Concerto, the work is a nostalgic evocation of his father, John Corigliano Sr., concertmaster for 23 years of the New York Philharmonic.

The piece is well put together, but, on first hearing, seemed mostly an excuse for low-key, reflective dialogue between first violin (Kim) and clarinet (Bellman). A logical choice for this program, it justified itself mainly in that sense. (And, in a technological aside, it demonstrated that Kim was just as deft turning iPad pages with his right foot while sitting down as he had been standing up in "Suite Italienne.")

The concert's second half was devoted to the Dohnanyi Sextet. Dohnanyi was an obvious yet effective composer, a kind of Brahms lite: The first movement of this piece is almost comically grandiloquent, with the charge led by the horn. Guest pianist and violinist and the Ronen group launched into it with gusto.

As the performance proceeded, it soon became clear that Kim's violin was casting his two string colleagues (violist Nancy Agres and cellist Fischer-Bellman) in the shade. It's not that he displayed a domineering manner, but that the other two players needed to project more.

Better balance was displayed in the slow movement, but when the score abounded with shorter note values, especially in the first and last movements, Kim's colleagues lacked the guest violinist's oomph. Apart from a few horn burbles, the winds (Rob Danforth and Bellman) acquitted themselves well throughout, and Da Silva evinced his usual facility and panache at the keyboard.