Those who came to last Saturday’s Northwest Sinfonietta concert at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater thinking they’d be hearing just another pleasant Bruch/Mendelssohn combination got a big surprise. Polite, petite Mayuko Kamio whipped out her 1727 Strad and played Bruch’s well-known first violin concerto with the volume of an orchestra section and the drama of an opera diva, before sitting demurely in the back of the first violins while Christophe Chagnard took the Sinfonietta through a reading of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony no. 3 that was both passionate and light-hearted – a fitting end to the ensemble’s 2012/13 season.
Kamio’s a Tchaikovsky gold medalist, and while rock-star soloists don’t always pay their way this one pulled out all her competition stops for Tacoma. After the orchestra played Kodály’s “Dances of Galanta” with verve, airy pianissimos and big, rich fortes (and many messy spots) the young Japanese soloist entered the Rialto stage with the grace and sparkly dress of a princess – the proceeded to belt the heck out of Bruch. With so much sound that she might have been an entire section, Kamio brought out every inch of Bruch’s Romanticism with bow strokes that pushed her gutsy-yet-smooth tone right to the very edge of every note and every beat. Using a wide, fast vibrato she sang like an opera diva, pulling phrases (literally) up and across to the audience – unfortunately only half-full – with vocal legato rather than violinistic portamenti. The second movement had subtle nuances from raw to gentle, and the third theme had the attack and drama of a musical theater torch song. In the finale Kamio’s double, triple and quadruple stops were fierce and lyrical, her virtuoso runs intensely musical and soaring to a triumphant climax.
Behind her, Chagnard and the orchestra followed sensitively through the surges and falls, though with too many mistuned woodwind chords.
Unbeknownst to many, there was plenty of artistic action in the audience too – artist Jennifer Smith, who mostly attends Seattle Sinfonietta concerts, was sketching the orchestra as she often does, producing a Degas-style pen-and-ink of the flurried movement and emotion unfolding before her.
After intermission came Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” symphony – called the third, but actually completed last, after 12 years of ideas inspired by a visit to Scotland. This work can often sound heavy and pompous, for it adds gravity to the composer’s usual quicksilver melodies and dancing rhythms. But Chagnard took most movements with tempi that allowed for grace. Particularly beautiful throughout were the expressive clarinet solos, dancing like birds across water (and equally lyrical in the Kodaly), but adding to the stormy, wild waves of the first movement were resonant timpani and lilting oboe and flute. The violins (perhaps partly thanks to Kamio and her Strad) made a huge warm sound, which unfortunately overbalanced the lower strings. Yet the second movement Vivace was jaunty, over a carpet of shimmering strings; the Adagio’s tender melody overlaid a very musical, guitar-like pizzicato accompaniment and its dotted-note section was majestic rather than funereal, with soaring horn/cello. Chagnard coaxed wild extremes out of the mischievous fourth movement, and the final fifth had a big romantic sound that was just as good from the very back of the hall, the horns blasting superbly and the tempo a good balance between regal and rollicking.
The Sinfonietta’s new season begins October 11-13 with pianist Joel Fan, followed by concerts of British composers, landscape works, Bach’s St. John Passion and a world premiere/Beethoven/Rossini finale. 888-356-6040, nwsinfonietta.org