A Young Conductor and a Mature Violinist

Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Friday, January 22, 2010
8:00 p.m.

James Gaffigan, conductor
Emanuel Borok, violin

Musorgsky – Prelude to Khovanshtchina
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10
Beethoven – Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61

Outside, it was a balmy 70 degree Texas January evening, but the brass played with icy clarity in the Shostakovich symphony. Inside, long lines for will call caused an even later-than-normal starting time for the concert. Yet, there were still quite a few empty seats.

The first half of Musorgsky was gently innocuous and a little wobbly, but an extremely quiet beginning is always difficult to execute. After the horn interlude, the second half firmed up while remaining delicate. The last section of the prelude silenced the audience, giving the Meyerson one of the quietest moments I remember in the hall. No coughing, wrappers, no shifting in the seats. In fact, the evening was notable if for no other reason than the total absence of cell phone blunders.

Shostakovich’s first symphony is surprisingly short until you consider he wrote it at the age of nineteen. It is an excellent example of the deadly decorum of the 20th century Russian masters. The opening is half death march half national anthem, and the orchestra under Gaffigan’s direction captured this mixture of somber formality and agitated fervor, especially in the articulation of repeated notes. During the first movement, the violins did not heed young Gaffigan’s directions for mezzo piano and continued forte. Some of his movements look green still, but Gaffigan works with energy and precision. The fourth movement of the Shostakovich was glorious but not transcendent.

In the first movement of the Beethoven concerto, the first violins’ odd repeated notes make sense harmonically only after the rest of the strings enter. Beethoven offers us a game of deferring V7 chords, as he makes the listener chase after them. The concerto’s rondo is another joy of Beethoven’s rapid 3/4 melodies in which he emphasizes the third beat and plays with duples in the middle of phrases.

After the intermission, Borok took the stage in an untucked black dress shirt. Next time at the Meyerson, he should wear a tuxedo jacket to protect himself from the cold. I heard audience members complaining after the performance, too. During the long exposition before his entrance, Borok was rapping his fingers in the air to keep the blood moving. The first statement suffered; intonation was a problem. But by the development, Borok was warmed and his playing comfortable. The cadenza of the first movement was inspired and mechanically brilliant. Borok lived inside the phrases as he wound them up and up like a whirlwind reaching the climax of harmonies in the double stops.

Borok’s tone is unusual because as he moves up the instrument instead of thinning out, the higher registers grow deeper, richer, fuller. There is also a peculiar quality in Borok’s sound that comes from the instrument’s purity. The sound jumps off the body of the violin and reaches your ears before you are aware it.

I am happy to report there were more young people in the crowd, making the audience more diverse. The more modern and energetic music selection might be one cause. We can hope with little anxiety that this trend will continue with Jaap van Zweden’s extending his contract with the DSO through the 2015-2016 season.

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