Great violin upstaged by fabulous program

03.25.09
Chee-Yun
Omaha World Herald

Violinist Chee-Yun played on one of the world's great violins during her recital Tuesday night at the Joslyn Art Museum.

Yet the Samsung Stradivarius, a remarkable instrument made by legendary Italian violinmaker Antonio Stradivari in 1708, wasn't the star of her show. Rather, it was her terrific concert program - chock-full of masterpieces - that appropriately captured the limelight.

Her recital, the third installment of this season's Tuesday Musical Concert Series, included two pillars of the violin repertoire - Bach's magnificent Chaconne in D minor from the Partita No. 2, and Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer."

The Chaconne, composed at the height of the Baroque Period around 1720, is the most challenging single movement written for a solo string instrument. It demands a violinist with all-encompassing technique to conquer its dense polyphonic writing, and a philosophical mind to probe its profound emotional depths.

Meanwhile, "Kreutzer," composed at the dawn of the Romantic Period, around 1803, is more like a virtuoso concerto than an intimate chamber piece. It requires an enormous sound, a dazzling technique and a good, old-fashioned sense of storm and stress.

Heard together on a single program, these two works come across as the Old and New Testaments of the violin, with Chee-Yun as their prophet.

The violinist and her accompanist, pianist Jeewon Park, opened with "Kreutzer." Their performance was symphonic in scope and fiery in virtuosity. Chee-Yun's fingers and bow arm blazed through this work, tossing off ferocious passagework with brilliant articulation and perfect intonation. Her tone was radiant, her sound huge.

Yet for all the razzle-dazzle, Chee-Yun and Park never lost sight of the big picture, creating volcanic contrasts between stormy and tranquil sections. Park, in particular, deserved credit for playing Beethoven's dauntingly difficult piano part with polished perfection.

The test in the Bach piece was to sustain the grand, lyrical line over this monumental work's 15 minutes and 260 measures, building to a satisfying climax.

Chee-Yun played the piece with a burnished tone, flawless bowing, fine finger work and overall patrician elegance. She piled on the dramatic tension block-by-sonic-block. In the end, her playing was so intensely in the moment she seemingly stopped time.

Chee-Yun concluded with two amazing French works - a movement from Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time and Camille Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor, Op. 28.

Appropriately, Chee-Yun played Messiaen's pure, crystalline melodies with a big, wobbling vibrato, which seemed to fill the hall with a sort of hazy sonic incense.

There was nothing mystic about the Saint-Saëns. It's a salon confection, and Chee-Yun played it with the gusto of a gypsy dance.

She also played one encore: Charles Wadsworth's Song Without Words.