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Violinist highlights Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra concert

01.09.10
Jennifer Koh
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

By Chris Shull

FORT WORTH — A concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra featuring a Mozart symphony and Vivaldi’s popular The Four Seasons worked well Friday at Bass Hall. Violin soloist Jennifer Koh was stellar soloing throughout the Vivaldi, and guest conductor Nicholas McGegan led a performance that was both serious and uninhibited.

(Concertgoers today and Sunday will get the addition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 53, which will reinforce the "classical music roots" theme of the program.)

Koh is a wonderful violinist, and she brought pizazz to every note of The Four Seasons. The piece is four concertos representing each of the seasons, each structured in three movements paced fast, slow and fast.

You’ll recognize some of this music, and the orchestra of strings — pared down to re-create the smaller ensembles that played during the early 1700s, when Vivaldi wrote the piece — gave a fleet and passionate accounting. Koh was marvelous; she played tumbling melodies and virtuoso flights, and not a note went astray. Koh always insightfully crafted the musical depictions of the seasons that made this music famous.

The first concerto, Spring, began with Koh and orchestra violinists Michael Shih and Adriana Voirin DeCosta musically imitating twittering birds. As the concertos progressed, the musical illustrations continued — the languid summer heat, the buzzing of bugs, happy dances, a hunt, and — most appropriately this weekend — shivering and foot-stamping in Winter. Then Koh’s slow phrasing was elegant against icy double-time plucks.

McGegan and the players precisely created the musical illusions; Koh’s vibrant and scintillating playing was brilliantly in service to the scene painting. In the baroque tradition, harpsichordist Shields-Collins Bray and cellist Leda Dawn Larson gave deft backup in the more delicate moments.

For Mozart’s Symphony No. 36, Linz, the orchestra grew closer to its normal complement of strings — and the greater numbers sometimes blunted precise phrasing and perfect intonation. But a dancing feel was ignited by McGegan, and the piece progressed with an infectious energy and easy grace.