Violinist Midori shines in Bernstein’s Serenade with Tongyeong Festival Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach
Japanese soloist’s technical prowess and sweet tone were in full evidence in American’s composition about Platonic love, and orchestra and conductor excelled in Korean ‘sound composition’ and Dvorák’s ‘New World’ symphony
Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade proved the ideal vehicle for Japanese violinist Midori to demonstrate her technical prowess and wonderful purity of sound in this concert with the Tongyeong Festival Orchestra. The 1954 work, although scored for violin, strings, harp and various percussion instruments, is justifiably considered a violin concerto.
The Osaka-born Midori’s sweet tone and rhythmic precision were fully evident in Phaedrus; Pausanias (Lento; Allegro marcato), the first movement of Bernstein’s work inspired by Platonic dialogues about the nature of love.
Conductor Christoph Eschenbach on his inspirations, and how good Hong Kong Phil is, ahead of concert
There was playfulness aplenty from both soloist and orchestra – an international ensemble that includes 25 members from the Hong Kong Sinfonietta – in Aristophanes (Allegretto) and the third movement, Eryximachus (Presto), depicting a hot-headed doctor, which was brilliant in its virtuosity.
The most moving “dialogue” was undoubtedly found in Agathon (Adagio) where Midori’s transcendental solo playing oozed warmth and focus. Typical of Bernstein, the jazz-inspired Socrates; Alcibiade (Molto tenuto; Allegro molto vivace) was infectious.
Rapturous applause drew an encore from Midori – a movement from Bach’s delightful solo Partita in E major.
The concert began with South Korean composer Isang Yun’s Bara, a symphonic work and “sound composition” dating from 1960 and inspired by the Korean cymbal used in a Buddhist ceremony. It employs a wide palette of techniques – glissandi, string pizzicati, portamento, tremolo – and a vast array of ornamentation, and is described by the composer as “little brush strokes from individual instruments [that] make up a whole painting”.
The sense of constant collision throughout this mysterious and challenging work was grasped expertly by the orchestra’s German conductor, 78-year-old Christoph Eschenbach, who provided players clear entries.
After the break came Dvorák’s universally loved Symphony No 9 in E minor, From the New World.
Eschenbach, a frequent guest in Hong Kong and champion of the Czech composer’s works, put his own stamp on the symphony. He shaped the Adagio (Allegro molto) movement tastefully, adding subtle rubato on occasion that was executed with conviction by the responsive Tongyeong Festival Orchestra musicians.
A quiet and expansive atmosphere was beautifully created in the famous Largo second movement, featuring gorgeous solo playing from both the cor anglais and first oboe. Eschenbach’s restrained tempi allowed ample room for melodies to blossom, as was the case in the rustic-dance-inspired Trio from the Scherzo (Molto vivace) and the themes, reminiscent of earlier movements, found in the glorious Allegro con fuoco final movement.
The woodwind, while not always unanimous as a section, excelled in their solo work, and the tight brass ensemble was impressive throughout.
Midori & Eschenbach, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall.
Reviewed: April 10