Violinist Koh simply dazzling
It is always pleasant to hear new or lesser-known pieces, but it is also comforting to recognize old ones. As refreshing as it is to see the talent of young great musicians, we love to feel the maturity of experienced and famous artists as well. The Halekulani Masterworks series has offered a lot of that variety recently.
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $22 to $73
Call: 792-2000 or Ticketmaster, (877) 750-4400
Friday night's program included a contemporary piece, Sierra's "Fandangos" (2000); Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy" (1880), a must in the repertoire of concert violinists; and the colossal and illustrious Brahms' Symphony No. 1 (1876).
The Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, conductor JoAnn Falletta and featured violinist Jennifer Koh worked hard throughout the evening. But it was Koh who brought the concert to its peak with Bruch's piece. Her refined technique showed us how dazzling virtuosity can combine with cool intelligence.
German composer Max Bruch wrote "Scottish Fantasy" for -- and dedicated it to -- Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, expecting nothing but excellence. He based each of the four movements on a different Scottish folk tune -- such as "Through the Wood Laddie" and "The Dusty Miller" -- and transformed them into romantic melodies.
The "Fantasy" requires a lot of dexterity and energy, involving classical balance and romantic sentimentality. On top of these challenges, the technical difficulties seem to go above the value of the piece.
Luckily, Koh's musicality and skills attracted more attention than the work itself. With her 1727 Stradivarius she delivered clean, round and powerful sounds. Even when the orchestra seemed unbalanced and uncohesive, her easiness and smooth phrasing kept the audience excited. She performed the fast scales and double stops in the Allegro movement with great confidence and energy while delivering the melodies of the slower movements with elegance.
"Fandangos" and Brahms' symphony framed the Fantasy. Sierra described his piece as a fantasy inspired by Antonio Soler's "Fandango," that incorporates elements of Boccherini's "Fandango" and his own Baroque musings. Alternating Spanish rhythms and scales with overbearing but short moments of loud and thick orchestral sounds, the piece and its performance seemed a bit confusing.
After a little unstable beginning, Falletta seemed to pull the orchestra together with the Brahms work, especially during the last movements. The piece carries the legacy of Beethoven's symphonic greatness. The finale features three trombones that give a new brightness to the work, introducing the theme known for its similarity to the finale of Beethoven's Ninth. The trombonists' entrance on the first note, after a long period of inactivity, was remarkable. All in all -- despite the reference to Beethoven -- the tragic, passionate and placid nature of the piece belongs all to Brahms.
Valeria Wenderoth has a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.