Saturday, May 06, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Norwegian violinist enchanting

Mary Ellyn Hutton reports on Friday night's Music Hall concert in today's Cincinnati Post (5/6/06):
Sometimes the best things are unplanned.

So it was Friday night at Music Hall. Making his debut with the Cincinnati Symphony on a week's notice was violinist Henning Kraggerud.

To say that Kraggerud made music in Beethoven's Violin Concerto would be an understatement. The 32-year-old, mop-haired Norwegian, who stepped in for ailing Akiko Suwanai, performed with a stylistic command rarely heard at Music Hall. It is a safe prediction that he will soon be knocking on the door of stardom, not only for his daunting virtuosity and strapping good looks, but for his distinctive artistry.

Kraggerud did not attempt to make the Beethoven a showpiece, or inject anachronistic, late romantic touches, but gave it a profoundly musical interpretation, true to its time and date of composition (1806). CSO music director Paavo Jarvi led an accompaniment to fit, which often meant holding the musicians to a very soft dynamic and eliciting chamber music-like textures.

Kraggerud spun a pure, sweet tone from his "Kreisler" Bergonzi violin, never heavy with vibrato, and he shaped phrases with keen focus and economy of bowing. The result was enchanting, never more so than in the Larghetto, where he spoke in a whisper against muted strings (the orchestra's fortissimo outburst at the end was downright rude by comparison). The cadenzas, Kraggerud's own, blended Bachian polyphony with passages in octaves and occasional virtuosic touches.

The only mishap, but a well-timed one, was a broken string at the end of the first movement, when Kraggerud exited briefly to switch violins. Called back for repeated bows, he played an encore, his own arrangement of the second movement of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, where he undertook both solo and accompanimental roles.

The concert, Jarvi and the CSO's last before fall, also included Bartok's 1923 Dance Suite and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish"). The Bartok had many fine moments, though it needs more performance to be totally assured. Still it was a real trip with its exotic woodwind colors, kicky trombone slides and raucous, folk-like melodies.

The Mendelssohn showcased the CSO beautifully. Flutist Molly Barth and French hornist Elizabeth Freimuth, both visitors, made their presence heard (though the horns were occasionally overbearing, especially in the final chorale). The lower strings were robust and full, and the unfailingly characterful CSO winds were all spit and polish.

The program repeats at 8 tonight at Music Hall.

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