This weekend's Philharmonic program has a clever design, with Midori's performance of the big, broad-shouldered but incomparably romantic Elgar Violin Concerto as its capstone.
But opening the concert is a work of great importance that the BPO will be recording early next year as part of its Naxos American composers project, Charles Tomlinson Griffes' "The White Peacock." And in between are two works whose textures, rhythms and sonorities form a striking contrast with those in the the music of Elgar and Griffes.
In "The White Peacock," the sinuous opening oboe theme sets the tone for evocatively impressionist preening gestures by the orchestra and other solo instruments. The music's dynamic unfoldings and contractions were shaped very sensuously by Falletta, and other than the need for cleaner articulation in the solo clarinet and violin, the work sounds ready for the recording session. At almost 50 minutes, the Elgar Violin Concerto is the longest in the standard repertory, but its surpassing breadth and majesty easily support that length. After an extended orchestral introduction in which melodic material galore is introduced, the violin enters in a higher key than the ear expects, with stunning emotional effect. Midori played it so expressively that the tone for the performance was set.
This diminutive artist plays with a pronounced physical involvement whose end is greater expression, not empty showmanship. Throughout the performance her violin seemed to emerge from, then fade back into, the orchestral fabric. This didn't indicate an imbalance with Falletta and the orchestra, but a purposeful interpretive choice.
The late Yehudi Menuhin, a lifelong champion of the work and first to record it, used to say that the music must be "sung." This term, too, would characterize Midori's approach to the Elgar. Sometimes she sang softly and delicately, but the whispers always remained clearly audible. And when she hit the expressive peaks her tone was broad and vibrant.
Nowhere was the violin-orchestra partnership more heartwarming than in the rapturous slow movement, which was played with tasteful rubato and such a poised, radiant beauty and sweetness that the music almost seemed static at times.
In Allegro Finale the orchestral sound was reminiscent of Elgar's rumbustious "Falstaff" symphonic poem, while the violin line was often given lines of "perpetual motion" energy. But as the music unfolds, vestigial references to earlier movements lead to a remarkable cadenza in which the strings have fleeting moments of "accompaniment," including Elgar's original "tremolo pizzicato" passages. It is difficult, but Midori, Falletta and the musicians carried it off superbly, generating a sense of awe and making that cadenza a crown that may have surpassed the prior glories. The audience seemed to share the sense of occasion and gave the performers an exceptionally warm ovation.
And what were those contrasting works in the middle?
There were two works of Spanish flavor. First it was Ravel's gauzy and sleek, then rhythmically exciting "Rapsodie Espagnol," with its convulsive ending. This was countered by the Suite No. 2 from Falla's "The Three-Cornered Hat," full of sultry Spanish sonorities, burning hot textures and festive flamenco rhythms. The intricacies were all well-handled, and both works got rousing receptions.
Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta
Featuring violinist Midori in Sir Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto.
Saturday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall; repeated today at 2:30 p.m., preconcert talk at 1:30.