IVCI Romantic/Post-Romantic finals - day two
By Tom Aldridge
Though I know at this writing who the six laureates are and how they'll be awarded at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Auditorium Sunday afternoon, my view of the three Saturday concerto performances was arrived at prior to the jurors.' As was the case on Friday, each finalist was joined by the ISO under the direction of Joel Smirnoff -- at the Circle Theatre.
Saturday's concert gave us a parade of concerto chestnuts with which to discern playing excellence: first Ji Young Lim playing the Brahms Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77; then Yoo Jin Jang and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35; and finally the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 as played by Dami Kim.
Unequivocally the best playing by far that evening was by Yoo Jin Jang performing the Tchaikovsky. Her tonal control was near perfect throughout the three movements--unlike Ji Yoon Lee's on Friday of the same work. Jang possessed none of the defects of bowing, and her staccato work in the third movement was spectacular, and without a single slip. On any held note Jang eased into hercharacteristic vibrato, making her reading of this work strongly reminiscent of Hilary Hahn's CD recording (and nobody does it better than Hilary). I thought it was the best playing in the competition.
Lim's reading of the Brahms' Concerto (heard first), though technically secure and musically convincing, displayed more tonal difficulties consistent with most of the IVCI participants: An uneven vibrato, occasional wobbliness, an intonation problem in the Joachim cadenza she used in the first movement. We were, however, salved by the lovely oboe solo ISO's principal Jennifer Christian gave us opening the slow movement. Lim seemed to control her tonal delivery better in the third movement. As for a perfect vibrato, she was capable; she just often failed to deliver it.
Dami Kim started her Sibelius Concerto beautifully--right on the mark, but began to wobble with excess when switching to her lower note registers. At the 2nd movement she started a little wide, while in the finale her tone was variable, going from white to wobbly.
At some point, it might be of great interest to the IVCI cognoscenti as to the criteria a given juror uses on which he/she bases his/her judgment of a given participant and the resultant assigning of a rating number from 1 to 25 -- perhaps better done in a non-competition year when we're not so swept up in the event. Sept 20; Hilbert Circle Theatre
IVCI Romantic/Post Romantic Finals - day one
By Tom Aldridge
Without going back and checking, I believe Friday's was the first IVCI concert where nothing was repeated from start to finish--at least in a single concert day. The explanation is simple: In the Romantic/post Romantic finals each finalist plays only one concerto. And if they happen to have picked different ones from the two others for that evening's repertoire choices . . . need I say more?
As with the Classical finals, U.S. player Tessa Lark began Friday's program, this time with Sir William Walton's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1939). To go with performing tradition, Lark unfurled her tone, like an eagle spreading its wings, to a full, rich, yet well contained vibrato. She made a beautiful sound throughout this thorny, complex, three-movement work. And it's almost unnecessary to mention her technical skills at weaving her way through this mostly rapid sound thicket. A violin beautifully played can make anything sound beautiful. Lark proved it.
Jinjoo Cho, the first of five S. Korean women, followed with another work new to the IVCI: Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 (1946), well known for borrowing music from some of his famous film scores. This was one of Cho's better accounts, with her fingerwork never straying into adjacent pitches. Yet she failed to project Tessa Lark's smoothness, her vibrato sounding more like a series of interrupted tremolos. Her rapid display passages in the third movement were occasionally roughly executed. But Cho gave us top notch technique in sharing some of Korngold's film music.
It remained for Ji Yoon Lee to provide us with a repertoire standard with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, to end the program. To start we heard more interrupted tremolos as with Cho, these segueing into nervous vibrati. Though her lovely, muted second movement theme was roughly executed, her third movement vibrato was smoother, accompanied with excellent staccato work with good dynamic and tempo nuances. Her playing had been similar in the preliminaries and semis.
On Saturday we hear the last three finalists: Ji Young Lim, Yoo Jin Jang and Dami Kim playing respectively the concertos of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. Following the latter, at about 11 p.m. the laureates will be announced probably in reverse order from the following: the gold medalist, the silver medalist, the bronze medalist and the fourth, fifth and sixth-place laureates--the high point of the two-week event. Sept. 19; Hilbert Circle Theatre
IVCI Classical finals - day two
She played it perfectly, the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218. With perfect legato, perfect passage work, the smoothest transitions without any burps or bleeps, S. Korean Yu Jin Jang dominated her five finalist cohorts--four of them also Korean and one from the U.S., over Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Moreover Jang gave us the most consistently beautiful vibrancy in her tonal rendering, with the precision of the accompanying East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) adding to the allure.
Thursday's second best playing came from Dami Kim, who also provided all the earmarks of a top-tier performance, this time with Mozart's Fifth Concerto--just not as consistently as Jang. Every now and then we heard a wobble or an off-pitch jump. Otherwise Kim considerably improved over her playing in the semi-finals. Both players managed Mozart's many tempo and rhythmic changes with aplomb.
Thursday's program opened with Ji Young Lim also playing No. 4, with her passages perhaps too well articulated, tending toward a staccato sound. Her vibrato varied from white to wobbly, making her pitches occasionally insecure. And, as Tessa Lark had done on Wednesday, Joon offered unknown cadenzas--again perhaps her own?
The ECCO closed its Thursday Program with an arrangement of variations for string orchestra by Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762), as slightly modified by a contemporary gentleman named Wianco (that's all I got), of La Folia, a tune having passed through many centuries. This one was given in a resounding D minor Stürm und Drang, with subtle Modernist inflections thrown into a basically Baroque structure. We need to hear the ECCO more often. Sept. 19; Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center
IVCI Classical finals - day one
In 1775 Mozart wrote all five of his violin concertos at age 19. The first two are little more than homages to the "style galant," after Johann Christian Bach. The last three are Mozartean masterpieces, among the finest works the composer had written by then. No. 5 in A. K. 219, is usually regarded as the best of the best, with its strong lyrico/dramatic structure in the final movement's "Turkish" section. In fact, it's easily good enough to tolerate three straight hearings, which it did Wednesday evening by three different IVCI participants. (These three had already chosen their repertoire prior to the competition from among the five of Mozart and one of Haydn.)
Presented at Uindy's Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center and featuring for the first time the conductorless East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO), the concert began with Jennifer Higdon's short piece simply called "String." The 25 violinists and violists stood (through the entire program), giving us the cleanest attacks and most precise playing we've heard in any Classical finals to date. "String" is a delightful, five-minute aperitif opening with pizzicato, delving into a rapid triple meter then devolving into a slower duple meter. It's clearly contemporary but employs many common chords.
Tessa Lark, the only U.S. player to make finalist, joined the ECCO strings plus the obligatory pair of horns and oboes (a "minimum" Classical orchestra) to give us one of the two best violin sounds heard from these six in the earlier events. She used different cadenzas from those usually heard by Joachim--possibly her own?--which is unusual but not unheard of. In both the F-sharp minor and the "Turkish" sections of the finale, Lark could have shared more energy--more "hair." She did give us much beautiful playing in the sublime Adagio.
Lark was followed by Jinjoo Cho, the first of the five S. Korean finalists. Though delivering her predictably thinner, more variable vibrato, she and her ECCO partners gave the work more verve in those two finale sections--as did the orchestra, for that matter. Perhaps having already played it once made a difference . . . or not.
Ji Yoon Lee rounded out the program giving K. 219 a similar shape to that of her preceding countryman. Both Lee and Cho, playing nearly white (vibratoless), nonetheless provided moving accounts of the Adagio; all three players deserve an "A" for that one. And the use of the ECCO for this event ought to continue. Sept 18; Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at Uindy