Hoopes and Gullberg Jensen Expose a Different Magic in Dvořák’s Violin Concerto

CanadaCanada Mozart, Dvořák, Brahms: Chad Hoopes (violin), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra / Eivind Gullberg Jensen (conductor), Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, 16.2.2019. (GN)

Chad Hoopes (violin), VSO & Eivind Gullberg Jensen (conductor) © Matthew Baird

MozartThe Magic Flute K.620, Overture
Dvořák – Violin Concerto in A minor Op.53
Brahms – Symphony No.4 in E minor Op.98

In any concert of exclusively mainline repertoire, one hopes to find something new in the interpretation of at least one of the works performed but, all too often, one doesn’t. This time, however, young American violinist Chad Hoopes and visiting Norwegian conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen managed to place a rather different stamp on the Dvořák Violin Concerto, securing an alternative type of development and colour and imbuing it with a more complex emotional palette at a measured speed. This interpretation differed notably from the more rustic, tightly-knit readings one finds in the classic Czech tradition or, for that matter, Augustin Hadelich’s exacting traversal here a few years ago.

Chad Hoopes is a violinist of refined taste and virtuosity, capable of spinning out his long, clean lines with beauty and feeling. He was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2017 and performed a distinguished Barber concerto on his last visit. Gullberg Jensen is a student of Jorma Panula and has had ties with the NDR Radiophilharmonie (2009-2014) and the Hamburg Symphony. He has also made his name in the opera house: he conducted Tosca at the Vienna State Opera in 2017 and returns for Dvořák’s Rusalka this year.

The concert began with a fine reading of Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute that displayed keen energy and motion and secured notable transparency from the divided violins. Gullberg Jensen coaxed an integrated response from the orchestra, and the precision of both brass and winds was impressive.

The Dvořák concerto started in a fairly standard way, with authentic Czech accents and rhythmic thrust in the opening tutti, but it did not move forward by following the template of simply contrasting the violin’s passages of melancholic musing with sharper orchestral statements. Armed with Hoopes’ capacity for lyrical variety and breadth, the contemplative dimension of the concerto was extended, finding many shades of a pastoral journey, with new vistas and fragrances instated as each corner was turned. This approach made the work softer and more intriguing, with emotional gradations and pliability – perhaps closer to the Brahms concerto. Indeed, the freshness and sense of discovery in the orchestral transitions reminded me a bit of the opening movement of Dvořák’s Fifth Symphony, at least when taken at a leisurely tempo. By any standard, this reading was not as self-consciously heartfelt or dramatically cogent as the norm, yet the soloist still found his own brand of tender yearning, and one gained a heightened awareness of the peacefulness, colour and range of smaller beauties in the work. While the slower tempo was doubtlessly critical, Hoopes’ masterly control of the lyrical line was equally fundamental. When the orchestra tightened up the argument at the close of the movement, it all sounded very Czech again, but it was also like coming back from an engrossing reverie.

The Adagio too was interesting, again with feelings not as simple and rustic as usual. Hoopes and the orchestra opened out a more refined filigree, the violinist finding a beguiling sweetness and smoothness in his address. But fragrance, beauty and poetry abounded in many directions. With the shimmering strings in the orchestra towards the end, ethereal postures even came to light. Perhaps this approach was slightly fay for Dvořák but not entirely out of place, and it is the first time I have thought of a really strong parallel with the slow movement of the Bruch concerto. (One notes that the attaca transitions into their slow movements are identical.) The typical bounding delight of the Finale was not as pronounced at its judiciously measured tempo. This was a very patient and structurally-aware traversal, finding interesting orchestral detail and rhythmic point to place alongside the violinist’s long lines. Hoopes showed a consistency of purpose throughout, mixing attack and poetry in equal measure, and he satisfyingly turned up the intensity towards the finish. One might argue that this treatment missed some of the charm and robustness in the writing, but it fit very well with the rest of the interpretation. I thought the whole thing was special, and Chad Hoopes’ playing was quite wondrous.

Gullberg Jensen tried something of the same approach in the closing Brahms Fourth Symphony, but here he was less successful. The opening Allegro started very slowly indeed, but the interpretative line was hardly given much life by a rather wooden delivery of the rocking cello theme, followed by a strange diminuendo when the violins took up the tune. In general, the conductor tended to dwell on the quiet, more searching postures of the piece, though the strong volume of the wind band was not helpful in creating atmosphere. A lot of time seemed to be spent trying to recover from the deliberate tempos, and one observed the conductor’s conscious effort to summon thrust and speed towards the movement’s end. A firmer overall pulse was needed. Things did not come together much better in the Andante (not entirely settled and sometimes overexpressed) or the Scherzo (not rhythmically solid or decisive enough). Nonetheless, the conductor brought the finale home with more consistency and some drama at the end, aided en route by Christie Reside’s poignant flute solo. I can understand what he might be attempting, but his sensitivities at this concert were put to much better use in the Dvořák.

Geoffrey Newman

Previously published in a slightly different form on http://www.vanclassicalmusic.com.

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