Strings in the spotlight at New World’s Concerto Showcase

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Strings are clearly the thing this year with six of the seven winners of the New World Symphony’s concerto competition comprised of five violinists and one cellist.

Four of those musicians were in the spotlight Friday night at the Lincoln Theatre with Alasdair Neale leading the orchestra in three concerto chestnuts and one fiddle showpiece.

 All four soloists acquitted themselves with distinction, if not always with consistent technical polish or showing the outsized musical personality some of the works required.

 Susan Yun, the sole cellist on Friday’s program, provided the most impressive all-around performance in Schumann’s Cello Concerto.  Schumann’s work remains a not-entirely-convincing piece with its scherzo-like style and lack of depth and soloistic opportunities. 

Still Yun made a strong case for this problematic work.  The Boston native took a more intimate, small-scale approach than many, which somewhat shorted the fleeting bravura moments, along with appearing to lose focus in a hectic coda. Still her singing tone, well-modulated vibrato and sure feel for the work’s lyrical Eusebius qualities were fluently rendered in a communicative and expressive performance.

Brian Fox opted for a familiar work, with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. The Tacoma, Washington, native had some spotty intonation and rushing in the first movement, but he clearly has a sympathy for Mendelssohn’s lyric delicacy, and his shimmering purity of tone was best displayed in a touching yet unsentimental account of the Andante.

On the first half gypsy music, overt and covert, were featured with music of Ravel and Bartok.

Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with its mix of  angular vehemence and febrile expression found a worthy advocate in Martin Shultz. The violinist possesses a beguilingly sweet timbre, which was well suited to the lyrical passages, and he rose to the challenge of the final movement’s virtuosic pages.  What the performance lacked was a more assertive edge and explosive fire, with the performance feeling a bit unvaried in color and expression, particularly in the slow movement’s variations, which could have been more sharply characterized.

 Katherine Bormann opened the evening as solo protagonist in Ravel’s Tzigane. The third-year violinist from North Dakota demonstrated a secure technique and surmounted the tortuous hurdles of Ravel’s gypsy showpiece, though the cautious tempos and somewhat literal style missed the music’s wildness and unbridled zigeneur expression.

Considering the amount of difficult music to prepare the New World members performed very well under Alasdair Neale’s alert direction, bouncing back nicely from a less-than-stellar Arsht Center appearance two weeks ago.

Alasdair Neale conducts the New World Symphony in Lutoslawski’s Piano Concerto, Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre, Miami Beach. $28-$78. 305-673-3330;

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Sat Feb 7, 2009
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