Violinist shines with R.I. Philharmonic

03.22.09
Chee-Yun
Providence Journal

The big offering on Saturday's performance by the Rhode Island Philharmonic was Anton Bruckner's sprawling Fourth Symphony, the so-called Romantic. But it was a sizzling rendition of the Mendelssohn violin concerto with Chee-Yun that stole the show.

Her performance drew shouts from the audience and produced a single solo encore, a flashy Fritz Kreisler score that the Korean-born fiddler nailed.

I can't recall a Philharmonic soloist with more pizzazz, with more personality and poise. And the nice thing about her playing was that it had passion and intensity, but never distorted the composer's wishes. The slow movement of the concerto was beautifully shaped, but never sugary.

And when you consider the back story to Chee-Yun's performance, it's all the more impressive. Two weeks ago, Chee-Yun thought she was supposed to be playing Prokofiev with the orchestra. No problem. She knocked off the Mendelssohn, one of the great 19th-century concertos, without breaking a sweat. The big cadenza in the first movement was wonderfully dramatic. And there was great joy and exuberance to be found in the frothy finale. It was playing with a lot of soul.

It should be said, too, that Chee-Yun was playing a phenomenal instrument, a Stradivarius with tremendous projection, that had no trouble filling Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

Believe it or not the Bruckner Fourth, which ran over an hour, is one of the composer's more compact statements. It is like all his symphonies - grand in scope, highly episodic and full of contrasts.

Conductor Larry Rachleff called it "wonderfully, beautifully long-winded." And there is a lot of truth to that. The outer two movements alone total about 40 minutes of music.

Still, this is one of Bruckner's most accessible, melodious scores, even though there are many repetitive moments.

Rachleff began the piece with an almost inaudible buzzing in the strings, as a prelude to the horn call that reoccurs throughout the score. And Saturday night the unidentified horn player was right on the money, playing with a glowing sound and clean attacks.

The entire orchestra, in fact, sounded tight. The brass outdid itself in blazing passages that took the orchestra to glorious heights, with walls of sound that would give way to the most fetching folk tune.

A lush cello section got a chance to show what it could do at the start of the Mahleresque slow movement. They were matched only by equally rich violas.

As Rachleff said of the slow movement before the start of the piece, it's a journey into the "deep feelings of a devout man."