The violinist Midori and pianist Robert McDonald came to the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle last night with a program of music ranging over two centuries, from J.S. Bach to Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. Each half of this balanced program paralleled the other, moving from past towards the present.
As one can expect from a Midori program, the playing was technically astute. It was not always particularly engaging, however. I suspect this was because Midori's approach to music making is so systematic. One senses that she solves every individual problem, then patches the pieces together to make a whole.
The problem, sometimes at least, is that the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts; spontaneity lags. This failing was most pronounced last night during the Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major by Maurice Ravel, a work filled with jazzlike gestures. Of course, what makes jazz (and almost all music) so interesting is not the notes per se, but the way individual performers introduce those notes in unique ways one performance after another. There was little sense of such in-the-moment playing last night.
Happily, this was not the case with the program's final works, which shimmered with vitality.
Rautavaara's brief 1970 showpiece, Dithyrambos, contrasts opening and closing perpetual motion sections with a rhapsodic middle. The music variously pulses with jagged mixed meters, swirling glissandos, and skidding dissonances. Midori performed it like a race-car driver: with power, speed, and taut cornering.
Ukrainian composer Karol Szymanowski's 1915 Notturno e Tarantella offers a collage of early 20th-century sonorities. Midori gave an imaginative performance that explored a range of emotions drawn from the composer's broad palette.
The program's second half opened with Bach's Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for solo violin. Here the playing was surprisingly lush; the andante movement a portrait of finesse.
It was satisfying to hear such a varied program. Performers of Midori's stature have the power to influence the repertoire choices for musicians at all levels. She reminds us to keep our eyes and ears open.
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