Artistry from Curtis Students – and the School’s President

26/12/2016

Mozart: Shmuel Ashkenasi (violin), Roberto Díaz (viola), Curtis Chamber Orchestra, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 11.12.2016. (BJ)

Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.1-5; Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra, K.364

One Mozart violin concerto on a program may be accounted treat enough. To be offered all five of the authentic ones in the course of a single afternoon and evening is a luxury. And when they are topped off with the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, the greatest work the composer had achieved by the age of 23, pleasure and artistic satisfaction surely know no bounds.

Divided into two full concerts, one beginning at 3 p.m. and the other at 7, this omnibus program was presented locally by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society in what was roughly the midpoint in a US tour, with dates remaining through 21 January in Washington, DC; Fort Myers and Palm Beach, Florida; and Carmel, Arcata, and Davis in California.

Considering that Mozart, despite the ostensible simplicity of his music, is one of the hardest of all composers to play, this surely amounts to a baptism by fire for the young musicians participating – the violinists all being students variously of Shmuel Ashkenasi, Aaron Rosand, Ida Kavafian, Arnold Steinhardt, and Pamela Frank. There was a different soloist for each of the works in the canon, and those five players, together with concertmaster Maria Ioudenitch, made up the group of six violinists in the small orchestra.

I don’t think it would be appropriate, in saluting what must be regarded as “work in progress,” for me to name names and go into detail about each performance. What can be said is that the general level of artistry and technique was predictably high. Only the cadenzas (composed, I understand, “mostly” by the soloists themselves) revealed a less than fully convincing mastery of Mozartean style – one in particular was decidedly too swoony for the ethereal slow movement it was part of – and I cannot refrain from singling out Stephen Kim for his assured and altogether excellent account of the A-major work. (His cadenzas, too, were thoroughly appropriate and well judged in scale and style.)

The evening concert was capped by the Sinfonia Concertante, with eminently professional soloists Shmuel Ashkenasi and Curtis president Roberto Díaz. Supported strongly by the orchestra, including very competent pairs of woodwinds and horns, they vividly captured the sense of bold exploration and emotional intensity that characterize this amazing break-out masterpiece – and it must be encouraging for the young performers to see that the head of their school still takes time to practice and to participate directly in their own formative concert experience.

Bernard Jacobson

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