Three virtuosos create vivid portraits of three concertos
New York — It's always nice to hear a fine violinist tackle a favorite concerto. But after a while, one does get tired of being made to think that the Tchaikovsky and the Sibelius are the only concertos worth performing.
Kyung-Wha Chung came to New York with the Philadelphia Orchestra under music director Riccardo Muti, and she offered the Tchaikovsky, which has been something of a trademark piece throughout her career. Puzzlingly, it is a piece she is playing less and less well. Her first recording with Andre Previn was alert, virtuosic in the extreme, and performed with an unusual mix of fire and tenderness. A recent digital remake with Charles Dutoit revealed a lessening of interpretive involvement. With Mr. Muti, she had some real problems playing all the notes accurately and in tune.
At her best, she remains one of the fine players of the day, and there is no point in trying to determine why the performance lacked profile and genuine excitement. Muti gave her an alert, taut, colorful accompaniment, and for the first time in years the Philadelphia Orchrestra actually sounded rich, fruity, and beguiling under his baton.
At the New York Philharmonic, Shlomo Mintz performed the Prokofiev First Concerto at the beginning of the new year. Here is a performer who is all fire and passion, and nowadays he is developing a winning sense of poetry. By choosing the lesser-performed First Concerto, Mintz was opting for musicianship rather than showmanship. The piece is more contemplative and rhapsodic in mood than the aggressive, hair-raising Second.
Mintz commands a formidable technique that generally brings a vivid, lyric, and propulsive life to his music. Clearly, young though he may be, he is maturing into a compelling and often poetic musician. He was ably abetted by conductor Kurt Sanderling, who managed to coax some gorgeous playing from the Philharmonic.
One would think that the big-name players would be tired of performing the standard works and would branch out into lesser-known but deserving repertoire. But they don't. It took Young-Uck Kim, the Korean violinist, to bring the Szymanowski Second Concerto to New York recently. It is a beautiful piece, weaving a haunting spell: The mood it presents, and the beauty with which the mood is sustained, make it a work deserving of exposure.
Mr. Kim played it with fervor and exquisite tone. There is nothing flashy about Kim. He is there to make music, not flaunt a flashy image. Perhaps this is why he is particularly effective in chamber music (particularly as a member of the remarkable Ax-Kim-Ma Trio). His single-minded dedication to the piece at hand has always resulted in insightful, touching performances. Mr. Sanderling was again the conductor, the New York Philharmonic again the orchestra. Together they gave Mr. Kim a pliant, expansive framework for his playing. Slump at the Met
The Metropolitan Opera is going through an odd slump at this time. The repertoire is not as interesting as it might be, ''Rinaldo'' notwithstanding. The Stravinsky evening, a David Hockney-John Dexter partnership, was meant to do to this composer what the same duo managed for Satie, Poulenc, and Ravel in a French triple bill. But when unveiled two seasons ago, it proved a compromised evening altogether. The choreography for ''Le Sacre du Printemps'' still strikes this reviewer as trite and silly. ''Le Rossignol,'' while beautifully designed by Hockney, and eloquently danced by Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell, is not a Met-size work.
''Oedipus Rex'' is given such a static staging on such an ugly set that the cast is at a tremendous disadvantage. The singing in the two operatic sections was variable. Top honors had to go to Jessye Norman as Jocasta. But her aria - the highlight of the evening - could hardly save this show. And the ridiculous mask she has to wear obscured one of the most expressive, communicative faces on a stage today. Timothy Jenkins managed the title role of ''Oedipus'' commendably , although for drama it was a bit too stoic. In the pit, James Levine had the orchestra in superb form, though Levine himself seemed more intent on decibels than on subtlety, even in ''Rossignol,'' which needs quiet shadings and soft colors to make its mark.
And the revival of ''Macbeth'' fared no better. What was, last year, a raucously silly, naive show is now just a bore. The Sir Peter Hall staging has had all its inanities removed, leaving a production lacking flavor and profile. On stage, Renata Scotto continues to evince signs of vocal deterioration in what was once a splendid lyric soprano. But a lyric could never hope to make an effect as Lady Macbeth, which demands a full-fledged Italian dramatic voice. Sherrill Milnes was in good form, although a bit uneven here and there. In his big Act IV aria, he sang a glorious A flat. Neil Shicoff sang Macduff's one aria with Met-size fervor and tonal allure. In the pit, Mr. Levine still offered the grandiose dimensions of his interpretations, but at this particular performance the phrases often ran out of energy before completion, which was puzzling from this most energetic of conductors.