Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, September 13, 1999

German masterworks
fail safe for symphony

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin


THE Honolulu Symphony opened its 100th Anniversary 1999-2000 concert season last night with, as Maestro Samuel Wong put it, "a shameless display of the greatest masterworks in the German tradition."

Wong's fail-safe program made a grand entrance with Wagner's Meistersinger overture, showcased violinist Kyoko Takezawa in possibly the most popular violin concerto ever written, Mendelssohn's Opus 64 in E minor, and closed with one of the pillars of German symphonic tradition, Brahms' Fourth Symphony.

Takezawa's violin, on loan from a Japanese sponsor, possesses a remarkable sound, with distinct voices in each register and dynamic level. Takezawa made the most of those voices, eschewing the usual Mendelssohn faerie land in favor of earthier, more mortal passions, an interpretation assisted by her violin's robust sound and by her confidence born of long intimacy with the piece.

The Japanese sponsor, incidentally, is an oil company that maintains its own art museum, something almost unheard of in the United States. And the violin is the nearly 300-year-old "Hammer" Stradivarius built in 1707. There are only about 600 Stradivarius violins left in the world, and the Hammer Stradivarius is worth close to $2 million dollars. Takezawa said she had to work with it to get the sound out. The wood needs to vibrate. "I had to wake up the wood."

And wake it up, she did: it fairly sang in its close-knit duet with Wong's orchestra. Takezawa and Wong displayed excellent rapport in the give-and-take so critical to the interpretation of this piece.

She closed with an encore of a lullaby from her Japan hometown. It was one of the most beautiful solos I have heard. Her performance made a strong argument for knowing and playing one's heritage: the lullaby was highly expressive, as deeply moving as it was felt.

For Brahms' Fourth Symphony, Wong used an orchestra about twice as large as the one Brahms used to premiere the work. Perhaps in consequence, the tempos were broad and the feel somewhat heavy. Although the playing was not particularly clean, there were passages of great excitement.

One pleasant surprise was the French horn section's stronger presence, possibly thanks to the new principal Ken Friedenberg. Another was flutist Susan McGinn's excellent solo in the fourth movement of the Brahms.

It is a curious fact that encores are often the most popular, the most un-self-consciously enjoyed part of concerts. They seem to bring out the best in performers and audiences alike. Wong closed the concert with Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor, and suddenly, that large orchestra played cleanly through fast and slow, thick and thin ... enticing that still, still audience into clapping and swaying.

Ruth O. Bingham has a Ph.D. in musicology from Cornell University
and is an instructor at the University of Hawaii

Kyoko Takezawa performs
with the Honolulu Symphony

Bullet Date: Repeats 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Bullet Place: Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall
Bullet Tickets: $15-$50
Bullet Call: 538-8863

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