Saturday, September 24, 2022

The big concerto statements: How the third night of IVCI finals struck me

 You would never run into the sort of concerts that are winding up the 2022 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in "real concert life." Three hefty concertos for a solo instrument and orchestra do not constitute the kind of program that's normally scheduled. 

That's quite all right — it's a contest, with a certain expansiveness and a lot of concentrated work. Besides the three finalists I heard Friday night, of course, the work fell on the shoulders of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Leonard Slatkin.

So even if the preliminary and semifinal rounds bore more resemblance to the kind of spotlight

Minami Yoshida of Japan played the Sibelius.

performance with a focus on one performer — we call them "recitals" — it's the four nights of finals that bring the stress and  inevitable comparisons to the fore. 

There were two nights of Classical Finals (the word "classical" in its formal designation of the late 18th century and encompassing five Mozart concertos and one by Haydn) before the requirement to work with a full symphony orchestra in one of 20 romantic or modern concertos.

The Hilbert Circle Theatre drew a substantial audience Thursday to witness the climax of the competition's ten days. After tonight's performances by the remaining three finalists, the scores for the main awards and the special distinctions will be gathered and a Gala Awards Ceremony and Reception will take place Sunday afternoon at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.


Joshua Brown displayed an affinity for Bartok.
Thursday's concert opened with  a work of extraordinary demands: Bela Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 2. The Hungarian modernist poured his trademark ingenuity and blend of barbs and sweetness into this work, which brought finalist Joshua Brown to the stage. 

Slatkin is an  experienced maestro with broad receptivity to all parts of the repertoire. His reputation
was loftily formed by lifting the reputation of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, then (among later accomplishments) practically giving the Detroit Symphony Orchestra a second life. Predictably, he drew from the ISO a brilliant accompaniment, sensitive to the complex colors and rhythms of the work.

Brown's performance had superior interpretive flair, which peaked in the first-movement cadenza. He reveled in the lyricism that can easily be overshadowed by aggressive episodes, thick with dissonance. The third movement, Allegro molto, brought out the violinist's vigorous embrace of the music's rhapsodic nature.

In the middle position was another American finalist, Julian Rhee, with Beethoven's Concerto in D. His playing was full of ardor, yet emotionally self-contained and patrician to a high degree. He showed a sure, well-developed  security in building phrases throughout this much-loved work. To my ears, however, he also tended to land on some high, sustained notes slightly under pitch. 

Concluding the long evening was Minami Yoshida, who had impressed me greatly in the competition's first two rounds. In Sibelius' Concerto in D minor, op.47, her initial entrance properly set the tone for the whole performance. It was well-considered but not overcautious. Her tone was especially admirable in the low-lying lyricism of the second movement. In the finale, her intensity nearly betrayed her at times, but it remained captivating and took its place mixed with a sweetness that her playing adhered to as needed. 

Over the course of the lengthy demands on the orchestra, the accompaniments continued on the same high plane with which they had begun in the Bartok. The whole evening was a concert-going experience in a format particularly conducive to the excitement that competition inevitably provides.



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