Violinist McDuffie shows wide range in lightish program

By David Fleshler

Photo: Mercer University

The American violinist Robert McDuffie walked on stage Sunday with his Guarnerius and an imaginative view of what constitutes appropriate fare for a violin recital.

 There were a few standards by Beethoven, Mozart and Kreisler. But then McDuffie took the violin from the recital hall and brought it to the rodeo arena, the movie house, the Viennese café and—in an encore—Giants Stadium, in a recital that showed his enormous range as a performer.

 McDuffie and the pianist Elizabeth Pridgen performed at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall in the opening concert of the Sunday Afternoons of Music series. Although the variety was impressive, the best performance of the afternoon came in a standard work of the repertoire, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 in C Minor. From the clipped opening theme, they gave an urgent, driving performance, placing Beethoven neither in the overly refined Classical world or a dreamy Romantic one, but in his own austere universe.

 In the Beethoven work, McDuffie and Pridgen performed as equals, but in the second half, the violin dominated. He played a rousing Hoe-down from Copland’s Rodeo, a darkly moving theme from the film Schindler’s List, and a throaty acocunt of the Heifetz arrangement of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So. In Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell, however—-the melancholy melody made famous in Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary (leading many people to believe erroneously that the 1982 work was a 19th- century tune)—McDuffie glopped a lot more vibrato on this simple countrified tune than it could handle.

 McDuffie, who lives in New York, has a career of unusual breadth. He founded a conservatory for strings at Mercer University in his hometown of Macon, Georgia, he runs a chamber music festival in Rome, and he is about to begin work on a new violin concerto commissioned from Philip Glass. All in addition to a busy solo career, where he is known for performing the works of American composers as well as the standard concertos.

 The program offered McDuffie few opportunities for technical display, with his mastery of the instrument apparent only in the effortlessness of his playing and the vast palette of tone colors that he brought to various works. But the last work, Magyar Abrand by Franz Lehar, was a rapid-fire gypsy-style work. And as an encore, he asked the audience to stand as he performed a version of The Star-Spangled Banner that he once played before a New York Jets game, in which he surrounded the melody with blazing runs, chords and notes plucked rapidly with the left hand.

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Mon Sep 14, 2009
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