Violin Concerto in A, K219
Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120 [Revised Version]
Karen Gomyo (violin)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 29 March, 2015
Venue: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan
Maybe there can be an advantage to being unwell. Put it this way: had I been at Wigmore Hall for the Final of its International String Quartet Competition, which I prevented myself from (my coughing and sneezing, spreading diseases, would not have been appreciated), then I would have missed this first-rate concert from Detroit, originally a date for the late and much-missed Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, although his programme was different.
Step-forward Cristian Mâcelaru to open this matinee (dedicated to Frühbeck) with György Ligeti’s four-movement Concert Românesc (1951), imbued with attractive folksong and intense feelings contrasted with energetic dance-steps and spiky wit. Given what Ligeti went onto write, the Romanian Concerto might come as surprise, although the opening of the rampaging finale foretells what was to come, and this scintillating movement is a rollercoaster ride for orchestra and listeners alike (if with some standstill time to reprise the echoing horns); the DSO had a ball, led by gypsy princess Yoonshin Song; her solos really scorched.
Another violinist, Karen Gomyo, then joined the DSO. It’s all too easy these days, if wearing an ‘authentic’ hat (although sizes vary), to rush through the Classical repertoire, metronome ticking away on the highest setting. What was immediately engaging here was a moderate tempo, bringing a swing and a smile to the first movement. Gomyo, accurate and smartly accompanied throughout, may not have the sweetest of sounds, at least in Mozart, but she proved generously expressive, as she did in the imploring Adagio, if not quite spacious enough for the full revealing of its pathos, certainly not in the passage where the soloist needs to get out of the way of the oboists, a few seconds that went for little. The finale though was a joy, elegance and increasing motivation off-set by the stamping ‘Turkish’ episode, fierily brought off.
The concert’s second half found Webern and Schumann juxtaposed, perhaps formality being the link, for the former’s Passacaglia is rigorous if wide-ranging and the latter’s Fourth Symphony tightly organised if with plenty of opportunities to be romantically flexible.
Passacaglia (for a large orchestra) is the first work that Anton Webern thought worthy of publication, with thirty opuses to follow. Mâcelaru was way out (misleading) to suggest that this corpus of work takes “sixty minutes” to perform as a totality – rather longer if still relatively concisely (and this doesn’t include something like the pre-Passacaglia Im Sommerwind, Webern’s longest continuous piece). Nevertheless Mâcelaru conducted this composer’s Opus 1 (a world within itself) with firm intentions, capturing well its dramas and beauties, and focussing its considered scoring; he lingered awhile too (effectively) and the DSO responded confidently to the many exposed passages. He suggested a nine-minute performance; it took eleven.
The Schumann, as revised (the original is quite quirky, if endearing), was given a generous outing, one that also paraded a light touch (beneficial to the instrumentation) and many communicative turns of phrase. This was a sinewy account with much attention to rhythm and detail. Probably because he was keen to keep the work as interlinked as possible, there were some moments that were a little stolid, such as the coda to the first movement, although the Scherzo was exhilarating, yet the Trio (twice) went sleepy and became increasingly dragging. Overall, though, it was good to hear such a sympathetic and well-prepared account of this great and inimitable music that is oft-recorded but less allowed for in the concert hall.