Violinist brings freshness, warmth
24. Jan. 2010 – Eckart Preu and the Spokane Symphony, along with violin soloist Vadim Gluzman, delivered the energy and brightness of a spring day to the audience at The Fox on a dark, chilly January night Saturday. By the calendar, this rite of spring may have been premature, but the performance was a joy to hear.
Preu opened the concert with Serge Prokofiev's “Classical” Symphony. After his conservatory graduation in 1914, Prokofiev quickly developed a reputation as a “bad boy” of Russian music by writing ear-bending works such as his first two piano concertos and some Stravinskian ballet music. But his response to the bloody 1917 Russian revolution was a witty First Symphony, modeled on Joseph Haydn's symphonies, a work as refreshing as a poolside glass of champagne.
Preu and the orchestra brought the exuberance of Prokofiev's fun to the symphony's opening and closing fast movements and the elegance of his melodic gift to the Largetto and Gavotte middle movements.
Vadim Gluzman, the evening's violin soloist, brought an equal freshness to Samuel Barber's 1940 Violin Concerto. The warmth of Gluzman's tone, combined with the absolute assurance of his technical skill, reminded the audience of the superstar violinists of the 1920s and '30s - among them Heifetz, Elman, Milstein and Kreisler.
Gluzman brought their old-fashioned magic to the work, yet he made Barber's Concerto very much his own. He never slighted the sweetness of Barber's rich melodious passages, but he also found elements that reflected Barber's uneasy feelings about the world situation at the time - an ominous march rhythm that grows persistent toward the end of the first movement, those vigorous outbursts in the Andante, all capped off by the unrelenting fury of the finale with its shifty orchestral accents underlying the nonstop fast passages for the soloist. Preu and the orchestra provided Gluzman a splendid partnership.
The audience responded with an immediate standing ovation. Encores seldom require much comment, but Gluzman's encore was unusual and played with the same skill and enthusiasm he had just shown in the concerto. The encore began by quoting the opening of Bach's Prelude to the Violin Partita in E major, then took a twist toward Paganini with quotations of the “Dies Irae” chant from the Roman Catholic Requiem. You might have thought it an improvisation on Bach by some particularly adventurous 21st-century American virtuoso. But it was the Prelude from Eugene Ysaÿe's seldom heard Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin whose subtitle is “Obsession.” Written in 1923, it was the work by a Belgian violinist-composer- conductor nearing the end of his remarkable career. From this short sample, it was clear Ysaÿe's six solo sonatas are well worth hearing.
Preu closed the concert with Felix Mendelssohn's “Italian” Symphony, a sparkling 19th-century parallel to Prokofiev's “Classical” Symphony. The humor, the lightness and transparency, and the elegance of its classical forms were exactly the same. Only the musical language was that of a century earlier. But the delight was equally infectious.
Mendelssohn wrote this symphony inspired by a visit to Italy in 1830 when he was barely 30. For a work that sounds so spontaneous, it gave the composer endless trouble. In fact, after conducting its premiere in London in 1833, Mendelssohn never again conducted it, and put it away unpublished. Luckily for us, though, he saved it.
Preu has already proven his enthusiasm for Mendelssohn's symphonies in earlier seasons, and he showed those same high spirits in Saturday's performance of the “Italian” Symphony. There were, as in the Prokofiev, some beautiful solos from the principal woodwind players and from the string sections as well. The concert gave a capstone to the observance of the bicentennial of Mendelsssohn's birth, and a happy celebration of the joys of making music and listening to it.