Violinist Esther Yoo closes season with impeccable artistry

By Lawrence Budmen

Esther Yoo performed a recital for Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night at Gusman Concert Hall. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Esther Yoo performed a recital for Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night at Gusman Concert Hall. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Violinist Esther Yoo proved a real discovery in her outstanding recital Tuesday night, the concluding event of the season for Friends of Chamber Music. In 2010 Yoo was the youngest prizewinner of the International Sibelius Violin Competition at just 16. She garnered subsequent prizes and accolades in the  Queen Elizabeth Competition and BBC Young Generation Artists program.

From the moment she took the Gusman Hall stage, Yoo displayed impeccable technique, highly personal interpretive instincts and musical maturity far beyond her years.

She opened with Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F Major, a work discovered and published in the 1950’s by Yehudi Menuhin. Filled with Mendelssohn’s typical melodic felicities, the score is a charmer. Bringing strength and a heroic edge to the opening theme, Yoo’s affinity for Mendelssohn’s long-spun lyricism was consistently present. Her light bowing and nicely varied dynamics brought elegance as well as passion to this romantic work. Yoo’s glistening tone soared in the Adagio and the final movement became a real fiddle display as Yoo brought high precision to the rapid runs up and down the fingerboard.

Robert Koenig is one of the most seasoned accompanists on the concert scene. He matched Yoo for deft lightness and verve in the Mendelssohn. Always attuned to the music’s varied stylistic niceties, Koenig offered stellar support throughout the program.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor, written in 1917, was the French impressionist master’s last major work. Once a staple of the recital repertoire, the score has been played with less frequency in recent years. While brimming with minefields that only the most technically secure players dare attempt, the score is not an overt display piece. Gallic languor and Debussy’s fascination with Eastern musical modes share equal footing with the glints of color that fill Debussy’s multihued canvass.

Yoo’s reading was notable for its absolute accuracy and technical command. Unlike some violinists who find the score a trial to perform, she did not fudge or attempt to modify the pyrotechnics. The opening Allegro glowed in her rich palette. She captured the shining wit of the second movement, a playful scherzo that is alternately plucked and bowed rapidly. Here Koenig’s rhythmic dexterity and tonal coloration were in full partnership. Yoo brought a combination of sensuous sonority and harmonic bite to the Très animé finale. She and Koenig gave equal weight to the score’s energetic zest and darker underpinnings.

In the concert second half, Yoo offered two Russian showpieces. Clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein joined the duo for Aram Khachaturian’s Trio for clarinet, violin and piano. This short work is unabashed “entertainment music” that would not be out of place as the background for an Armenian travelogue. There are some catchy tunes, especially in the concluding Moderato movement, and very little development. The quiet ending is quite unexpected after the toe tapping, klezmer-tinged melodies. Fiterstein’s mellow sound, agile leaps and spot-on articulation were impressive. With Yoo’s burnished sonority and Koenig’s keyboard facility, the three players blended to engaging effect.

Yoo’s appropriately rich sound and layered rubato in the Russian manner emblazoned Glazunov’s  outpouring of melody in the Adagio from the ballet Raymonda. Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo in C Major brought a fine display of her pyrotechnical bona fides with the bow seemingly bouncing on the strings to the melodic strokes.

Esther Yoo is a terrifically gifted artist. Hopefully future appearances will showcase even greater diversity of repertoire.

The 2017-2018 season of the Friends of Chamber Music will feature recitals by pianists Nikolai Lugansky, Stephen Hough, Joseph Kalichstein, Rafal Blechacz and Benjamin Grosvenor, soprano Michelle Bradley and pianist Ken Noda, and performances by the Roberto Diaz Trio, the Kalichstein-Loredo-Robinson Trio with violist Cynthia Phelps, the Ehnes Quartet with violist Roberto Diaz and the Russian String Quartet.

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Wed May 24, 2017
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