Augustin Hadelich; VSO/ Mei-Ann Chen; Orpheum, October 19, 2013

Nicola Benedetti; VSO/ Jun Markl: Orpheum, November 3, 2013

Vilde Frang/ Michail Lifits, Playhouse, October 27, 2013


Vancouver classical concerts in the last two weeks of October gave us a violin clinic to treasure, featuring three of the most promising young violinists before us today.

The first featured 29-year old Augustin Hadelich with the VSO.  This is a violinist we have seen before and have always been impressed by his wonderfully-pure tone, sense of line and clear articulation.  Here the challenge was the Dvorak Violin Concerto, accompanied by energetic young Taiwanese/American female conductor, Mei-Ann Chen, currently director of the Memphis Symphony.  As was evident from her enjoyable performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, Chen is a very conscientious conductor who exhibits strong command over the orchestra, a feel for detail and colour, and responds to patriotic flourishes with enthusiasm.  This spelled a very purposive, tightly-knit performance of the Dvorak concerto, Hadelich often having to push forward strongly to match the discipline of the conductor.   And that he did admirably, but often had very little space to relax into the sweet, lyrical episodes that make this concerto endearing.  Only at the end of the slow movement did the quiet, tender repose and inner concentration really take hold, and the violinist’s playing was both moving and distinctive.  The final movement returned to the pattern of the first.  The rhythms of this movement were more ‘driving’ than ‘skipping’, light on charm and play, and again not leaving much room to cultivate a variety of expression in the violin part.  Certainly, a powerful performance overall, showing some of Hadelich’s immense talents, but not the full story.

The second VSO concert featured the return of wonderful 26-year old, Scottish born Nicola Benedetti, in an innovative programme featuring entirely works with a Scottish theme.  This violinist has already achieved legendary status, especially in Britain.  She made her debut at the ‘Proms’ in 2010 and her first two recordings for Deutsche Grammophon immediately achieved number one on UK classical charts.  Here she collaborated with highly-respected conductor, Jun Markl, in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasia.  This violinist has a wonderfully pure tone too and she possibly has a greater poise, control and sense of musical architecture than many of her contemporaries.  Her ability to bend and shape long lyrical lines is stunning.  Much of this was on display in this performance but it must be conceded that the reading of the Bruch was bit of an experiment.  The Scottish Fantasia is not the strongest of works, and many performers (starting from Heifetz) have found it necessary to add sparkle, verve and virtuosity to bring it to life.  This performance went almost in the other direction, trying to bring out its austere, inward beauty at very slow speeds.  Insightful in its way, but too much of the exposition seemed self-consciously deliberate and, for all the wonderful playing, even the delightful folk rhythms seemed to be somewhat burdened.  I would love to hear a successful performance along these lines, but this one needs some work.  Markl’s own Mendelssohn ‘Scotch’ Symphony was almost as controversial, combining carefully-drawn string phrasing, multiple speed changes and almost militaristic attack on the first and last movement’s allegros.  But somehow there was consistency and intensity in the music making, and his pacing of the difficult slow movement was unerring.  I think this was quite a unique performance.



Between these two concerts, the Vancouver Recital Society brought us the exciting 27-year old Norwegian, Vilde Frang, whose playing now receives the highest praise in the most honoured circles. And stunning it is too, by turns passionate, forceful and rich-toned, then delivering such inward streams of beauty in the quieter passages, where she barely strokes the strings.  Her symbiotic relationship with pianist Michail Lifits certainly paid dividends throughout this recital, and the opening Mendelssohn Violin Sonata received a very alert and vibrant account, giving the work both depth and stature.  Perhaps the outright winner was Faure’s First Violin Sonata, where the violinist penetrated its quiet and bittersweet lyrical musings so beautifully.  The other performance which promised to be pretty stunning was the Prokofiev Second Sonata, but I say promised to be, since the violinist broke an e-string just before its end!  The failure to have a suitable replacement string on hand, and unprecedented efforts to borrow one from the audience, meant that the concert essentially ended at that point.  Unusual, but probably the basis for a story the artists can tell for years to come.  But there can be no doubt: Vilde Frang’s playing is striking. Perhaps there a still trace of youthful over-projection here and there but the passion, intensity and concentration of the music making do conjure up legendary artists of the past.


© Geoffrey Newman 2013


Nicola Benedetti and Jun Markl rehearse with the VSO

Augustin Hadelich and Mei-Ann Chen rehearse with VSO

Vilde Frang in recital