Gluzman’s Tchaikovsky ignites Boca Symphonia opener

By Greg Stepanich

The Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman gave a blazing performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto Sunday afternoon in Boca Raton, using the very violin once owned by the man to whom the work was dedicated in 1878.

 Gluzman’s performance at the season’s first concert by the Boca Raton Symphonia on the 1690 Stradivarius that belonged to Leopold Auer was everything a rendition of this eternally appealing concerto should be. It, and he, had it all: Beautiful tone, flawless technique, a hell-for-leather approach to its virtuosic demands, and a heartfelt identification with its most soulful moments.

 From the very first notes of the piece, Gluzman was in total command of the work, which allowed him to add numerous interpretive shadings such as a sudden slowdown in the middle of a melodic passage to give it a bit of heft. He was a physically engaged performer as well, turning now and again to the orchestra like the leader of a folk band as he set the stage for the next section of the piece.

 Conductor Alexander Platt and his orchestra got a serious workout with Gluzman, finding themselves constantly on their toes as the soloist played with tempi and dynamics. But they did an admirable job of doing so, and it was exciting to watch every musician on stage — not just the one in the spotlight — working that hard, as though the piece were newly written rather than just newly infused with a stellar soloist’s quicksilver energy.

 Gluzman received a standing ovation after the first movement of the Tchaikovsky, so it’s no surprise that he was called back for an encore, and complied with the first movement of the solo Sonata No. 2 by the Belgian virtuoso and composer Eugene Ysaye. A weirdly wonderful melange of Bach partita fragments and the ancient Dies irae plainchant, Ysaye’s piece has plenty of dazzle and drama, and Gluzman’s formidable technical prowess and radical interpretive sense made it a seemingly easy conquest.

 Sunday’s program is the first installment of a Boca Symphonia season that Platt, the chamber orchestra’s principal conductor, has devoted to aspects of the art of Tchaikovsky. The first half of the concert held two works: the Dumbarton Oaks concerto of Stravinsky and the Prague Symphony (No. 38 in D, K. 504) of Mozart.

 The Stravinsky concerto, a bubbly romp in the composer’s most limpid neoclassical style, needs ensemble precision to work effectively and make the most of Stravinsky’s carefully thought-out orchestration. It was the Boca Symphonia strings that stood out here throughout the three-movement work, demonstrating cohesion and agility as they tackled the concerto’s jaunty language.

 A good example of string unity could be heard at the end of the first movement, as the players brought clarity and sheen to the scalar passage that closes it. Results were less happy on the wind side of things, with some flubs in the horns early in the first movement, and there was a certain lack of body in the overall sound that made the piece less effective than it could have been.

 The Mozart symphony also benefited from good string ensemble work throughout, and Platt’s brisk tempi in the outer movements gave this familiar work a healthy boost of athleticism. He told the audience he would be taking some of the repeats other conductors have disregarded in recent years, and they did add some depth to the piece.

 That was particularly true in the second movement, which took on emotional weight simply by being longer, and seemed less like a pause for breath than it does without it. In general, this was an invigorating reading of the symphony, and made a persuasive case for the practice of the past couple decades of performing Mozart symphonies with leaner, chamber-size orchestras.

 Platt in general is an involved conductor whose immersion in the music is plain to see, and that enthusiasm gives his podium work a freshness and liveliness that brings the audience along with him on a journey of discovery. This is a good trait for a music director to have, and it augurs hopeful things for the Boca Symphonia.

 The next concert in the Boca Symphonia series is set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009, in the Roberts Theater at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton. Pianist Frederic Chiu will be the soloist in the First Piano Concerto of Felix Mendelssohn, on a program that includes the Fifth Symphony (in F, Op. 76) of Dvorak, and Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes, Op. 90. For tickets, call 376-3848, 888-426-5577, or visit


Greg Stepanich has covered classical music, theater and dance for 25 years at newspapers in Illinois, West Virginia and Florida. He worked for 10 years at The Palm Beach Post, where he was an assistant business editor and pilot of Classical Musings, a classical music blog. He now blogs for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper at and at He also works as a freelance writer and composer.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Gluzman’s Tchaikovsky ignites Boca Symphonia opener”

  1. Posted Dec 10, 2008 at 9:57 pm by Barry Mintzer

    i have been a subscriber to the Boca Raton Symphonia since it’s first season. It has been a pleasure to watch and listen to this wonderful chamber orchestra continue to grow and mature. the above concert was as exciting and rewarding as any classical music lover could ask for. Congratulations to all of the wonderful musicians and the new musical director/conductor, Alexander Platt. This group deserves the support of us all. Also many thanks to Lawrence Johnson for his hand in creating the South Florida Classical Review after our newspapers appeared to forget about the thousands of classical music fans in South Florida.

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