Concert review: Caroline Goulding, Springfield Symphony Orchestra embrace Mendelssohn concerto

Caroline Goulding

By Clifton Noble Jr.

SPRINGFIELD – Youthful energy electrified Symphony Hall on Saturday as the Springfield Symphony Orchestra presented an evening of “Mendelssohn and Mozart.”

In place of the customary Classical Conversations, the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra launched the evening’s music-making with an admirable account of the Suite from Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake.” This young orchestra, its members ranging from eighth grade through high school-age, gets better with every hearing. Encouraged by conductor Jonathan Lam’s sweeping gestures, they tore into Tchaikovsky’s richly hued tonal canvases with passion and style. Notably mature, poised playing from the principle winds and brass highlighted the performance.

Feeding further into the theme of youthful verve, the guest soloist for the concert was 19-year-old Caroline Goulding, engaged to perform Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.

Goulding’s reputation preceded her, since she played the Mendelssohn concerto last season with SSO Maestro Kevin Rhodes and his “other orchestra” in Traverse City, Michigan, and he promised his Springfield audience excitement anchored in the groundedness and solidity of a high level artist.

Recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, veteran of solo performances with some of the nation’s top-ranked orchestras and recitals in fabled halls from the Kennedy Center to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and player of a superb instrument, the nearly 300-year-old General Kyd Stradivarius, Goulding delivered the goods.

The petite powerhouse captured our ears with her opening B, and held them enraptured through soaring, achingly sweet high Cs that only a Stradivarius in the most capable hands can sing, and scampering passagework that seemed to strike fire from her strings.

Like most soloists in her league, Goulding’s technical mastery is expected. The maturity of her declamation, the ability to keep the big picture in clear focus while effecting the subtlest stretching of tempo at the peak of a phrase, and the confidence to then abandon herself to intimate engagement in the heart of the music, these are the qualities that moved Rhodes to call her playing “quite unique.”

By turns melancholy and mischievous, elfin and regal, Goulding painted a thrilling picture of the Mendelssohn concerto. She played every note – every line as if life itself depended on it. The audience of 1,976 leaped to its feet and stayed there through three series of bows, embraces, and flowers.

Rhodes bracketed the Mendelssohn with appropriate sonic partners, the yearning “Air” from J. S. Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, and the final symphony by W. A. Mozart, his forty-first, nicknamed “Jupiter.”

Conducting the Bach without a baton, Rhodes inspired in his players the unity of purpose, precision and sweetness of a much smaller string ensemble than the one on stage. The resulting performance filled the hall with beautiful sound, but never weighted down Bach’s elegant contrapuntal tapestry woven so long ago (around the time Antonio Stradivari assembled Goulding’s violin, perhaps).

Though Bach’s compositions were not widely known in Mozart’s lifetime (it was Mendelssohn who would restore the Baroque master’s works to public consciousness in the 19th century), he had studied them, along with the works of Handel, thanks to a loan of scores from Baron Gottfried van Swieten.

The grandeur of Baroque contrapuntal architecture laid over the inventive genius of the fully mature Mozart at the height of his composition power produced in the “Jupiter” Symphony one of the most complex and at the same time luminescent works in the history of western music.

Rhodes and his colleagues gave an exquisite performance of this masterpiece, exploring every nook and cranny of its structure with the penlight of reason, and focusing its brilliance upon the audience with the intensity of a spotlight. Hearing the symphony with all marked repeats played gave the truest sense possible of the proportion and weight intended by the composer.

The finale in particular, a colossal compositional achievement by any yardstick, was interpreted scrupulously, allowing its complexity to lurk just beneath the surface of the sheer pleasure of its hearing.