Midori is a violinist of real
imagination, possessed of an astonishing technique. Her solo recitals
with her regular accompanist Robert McDonald (with whom she enjoys
an evident rapport) find her at home and comfortable. Even the presence
of TV cameras (for BBC4) failed to impact on this – yet recently (minus
TV), Midori did not make a massive impression in the Dvorak Concerto
at the ‘other place’ (the Festival Hall in January this year). She
seems more at ease on the recital platform, where she is clearly in
charge and McDonald is a very self-effacing accompanist. Also, it
is there she can experiment with interesting combinations of repertoire,
as here (how often do you get to hear Hindemith’s Violin Sonata in
E flat, Op. 11 No. 1, played by a major artist?); her October 2002
recital, again at the Barbican, pitted Schulhoff and lesser-known
Richard Strauss against Dvorák and Mozart.
Hindemith is a fascinating
choice with which to begin a recital. His brief, two-movement Violin
Sonata in E flat of 1918 is well worth searching out for rehearing
(a pity the programme notes were so brief – necessarily so, as all
that was provided as an A4 handout, only one side of which was given
over to the music itself). It took a while for balance between the
two soloists to feel secure (McDonald threatening to overwhelm Midori
in the opening movement) but once this was quickly sorted out the
performance was little short of revelatory. As so often with Hindemith,
the piano part is itself a major challenge, and McDonald projected
the obsessive march-like characteristics of the first movement well.
But what stood out was the players’ projection of the music of the
dance (bitter-sweet at times). McDonald could have made more of the
dark lower register, but the prevailing impression was of something
compelling in the understatement of Midori’s playing. Could they be
persuaded to record this work, I wonder (or is it already in the can?)
For the moment, there is an account on Dabringhaus und Grimm played
by Ida Bieler and Kalle Randalu, MDG304 0691-2, for further exploration.
The Brahms G major
Sonata (1879) was the perfect companion-piece. This represents Brahms
at his warmest, and Midori responded with a liquid, seamless legato
against McDonald’s glowing piano chords at the opening. It was just
that bit too rehearsed, though, lacking in the final analysis that
quasi-improvised air that characterizes the greatest accounts. The
players then underplayed the contrasts in the score – it was clear
that nothing, but nothing, was going to disturb this atmosphere. A
special word or two of praise to Robert McDonald for taking the difficulties
of the piano part fully in his stride. Alas, his chordal opening to
the second movement was not the rapt sequence it should be, neither
did he evoke the autumnal radiance inherent in the score. It was left
to Midori to realise the music’s lyric potential. The performance
only really and truly warmed into Brahms’ world in the finale, which
included some ravishing half-voice from Midori.
Modern Bach opened
the second half. Peaceful and tasteful, the first movement led to
a jolly Allegro assai. The canon of the Andante unfolded well, and
articulation was fully praise-worthy from Midori in the finale, but
the general impression was that this was something of a token gesture.
Midori, McDonald and (probably) the whole of the audience were in
reality waiting for the pyrotechnics of the Saint-Saëns.
And how she delivered.
In fact, both of them did (just how many notes are there in the piano
part, I wonder). The First Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 75 found
the Midori-McDonald partnership at its best. The highlight was the
tender and delicate Adagio, closely followed by the feather-light
Scherzo (Saint-Saëns’ Elfentanz, perhaps?). If the finale was
more ‘Prestissimo molto’ than the prescribed ‘Allegro molto’, it certainly
worked in context, massively impressive technically (from both protagonists),
but also capturing the Romantic sweep of the piece in the process.
A recital that included
some truly memorable moments and that was never less than fascinating.