Young violinist helps fuel evening's glow

22. Oct. 2004 – The Spokane Symphony warmed a chilly Friday night with its third Classics concert at the Opera House. The orchestra and conductor Eckart Preu were themselves warmed by the brilliant virtuosity and expressive warmth of violin soloist Tai Murray.

It was basically a French evening from the introductory Fanfare from Paul Dukas' "La Peri" to the encore, the "Can-Can" from Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in Hades."

Murray played the only non-French work on the program, Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violin Concerto.

And what a winning way she had with it! This 22-year-old from Chicago knows how to sing with her violin, an absolutely necessary quality that Korngold demands in this work. But she skittered through the fierce demands of the acrobatics of the first movement and finale where the composer probably had in mind the abilities of Jascha Heifetz, the violinist who gave the concerto's premiere.

It is rare to encounter a soloist who seems to have a natural instinct for Korngold's hyper-romantic style. The temptation is to apply the schmaltz too lavishly, or worse, play it too, too cool.

Murray sounds as though she knows and loves Korngold's film scores he wrote from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s (more than 20 of them!) - many of them swashbuckling adventures for Errol Flynn or passionate costume dramas for Bette Davis.

Preu and the orchestra gave Murray excellent, warm-toned support. Critics should probably refrain from potentially embarrassing predictions, but here is one anyway: Unless something goes badly wrong, Tai Murray will turn out to be one of the best violinists of the coming generation. She has impeccable intonation, a beautiful tone, a dazzling technique and naturalness to her phrasing that makes her playing speak to the heart.

Preu chose the Second Suite from Albert Roussel's ballet "Bacchus and Ariadne" to open the concert. Roussel's music is not well known in the United States, but it should be. Preu showed what a colorful orchestrator Roussel was in the eight episodes from the mythological story of Bacchus and his love for Ariadne. These segments offer plenty of chance for displays of the orchestra's soloists. From violist Nicholas Carper's lyric playing of the scene of Ariadne's sleep, through Bruce Bodden and Gale Coffee's whirlwind flute and piccolo duet during Bacchus' Dance, the Spokane players' performances were a treat to the ear.

Preu closed the concert with Claude Debussy's "La Mer" - three stunning pictures of the sea that match any of the numerous impressionist seascapes.

What stunned me was the impact Preu was able to bring to the brassy glare of the climax to "From Dawn to Noon on the Sea" and to the stormy conclusion of "The Dialog of the Wind and the Sea."

It struck me Friday, as it has in Preu's past performances, that the thunderous effect of his loud passages are possible only because he is so careful in managing to make the soft sections truly soft. It's an uncommon gift.

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