Chamber music, as its name implies belongs in rooms—initially the salons of the aristocracy and wealthy patrons. Oftentimes, some of those listening would be students of the composers; others had their names inscribed in the dedication line of compositions being performed. There are few finer treats in concert life than hearing a performance from the quartet, trio or sonata repertoire in a “home” where the intensity, knowledge and dedication of the performers are complemented by the audience—everyone savouring every phrase, idea and shading.
The economics of art has largely (but not everywhere, cross-reference below) driven the musicians from music rooms to cavernous halls where the probability of recreating the shared experience declines in direct proportion to the number of bums in seats.
Happily, an artist with the depth, surety and insight as Midori and her stellar accompanist Robert McDonald, have a better chance than most musicians before the public today in bringing to life the magnificent repertoire contained in their program. Unfortunately, many in the large crowd at the McCallum Theatre successfully thwarted the most sublime moments, robbing the rest of an exceptional evening.
The usual "soundspects" (wristwatch alarms, idle chatter, shovelling through purses and handbags in search of crinkly wrapped candies to prevent the coughs that never come during the fortissimos) were outstripped by Velcro-ripping ushers (volunteers, I’m sure; but please: set an example for the others) and the “let’s-clap-before-the-movement-ends” claque. It’s impossible to reflect on the magic of a tone that disappears into the heavens when fleshy popcorn fills the air before the bow has left the string.
Concert promoters beware: It is this kind of spoiled night that keeps many at home, enjoying their CDs without unwanted interruption. Where’s Jeffrey Siegel (cross-reference below) when we need him? We must find a way of eradicating misguided enthusiasm so that, during greatness, we can be genuinely moved.
And there was so much to admire in this recital. The “Spring” sonata was given a deeply personal reading by both protagonists and was truly collaborative. In particular, the “Adagio” provided seamless legato, filling our ears with mystery and revelation. The “Scherzo” danced playfully: the perfect foil to the “Rondo” where only a touch more shaping of the repeated melodic notes could have improved the result.
Throughout Janácek’s far-reaching opus, Midori brought committed passion, a fabulous array of colour and sincerity that was compellingly into-the-string. The “Ballada,” echoing Debussy, was perfectly balanced, always moving forward until the last harmonic utterance (with an intriguing but unexpected overtone slipping out into the light), which would have brought shivers in a quieter setting…
In As Night Falls on Barjeantane, the childlike simplicity of Danielpour’s three-note motif (intriguingly reminiscent of Janácek’s “Adagio”), accompanied with fleeting octaves, provided the component parts of this evocative soundscape. It was entirely appropriate that samplings of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite should be knitted into this Villecroze setting, which couldn’t have had abler proponents.
For the Saint-Saëns, Midori stepped back into herself, showering us with shimmering cascades of technical perfection, marvellously contrasted with long lines where her bow changes that could be seen but not heard. She seemed to harness the anger of having so many previous thoughts, unwittingly truncated, playing the dynamic, theme-rich score with abandon. McDonald, as he had all evening, sensed her mood and provided first-rate leadership and support when required. But in the final movement, even he had to dig extra deep to keep pace with his riveting partner as the notes took fire, flirted with disaster then—strings still smoking—they brought the room to its feet. JWR