Violinist Lin brings a silver lining to uneven Apollo Orchestra concert

Sat Oct 13, 2018 at 2:18 pm
By Joan Reinthaler

Cho-Liang Lin performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Apollo Orchestra Friday night. Photo: Bruce Boyajian

On Friday, violinist Cho-Liang Lin starred in three capacities with the Apollo Orchestra in its concert at Bethesda’s Church of the Little Flower.

As soloist-conductor in Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3 in G Major, K. 216, he played (on his 1715 Stradivarius, the “Titian”) a modest, sweet-voiced, somewhat reflective reading, calling more to mind memories of youthful exuberance than of the exuberance itself. Then, donning a completely new persona, he discarded his modest demeanor, replaced his bow with a baton and launched the orchestra into the brash colors and rhythms of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. And, lastly, after intermission, he joined the orchestra, playing in the last chair of the violin section for a performance of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 led by Apollo music director Stephen Czarkowski.

Throughout his varied career, Lin has largely avoided flashy technical displays and his Mozart was characteristic of the poetry and thoughtfulness that have worn so well throughout his career. Not that virtuosity was missing in this performance: the cadenzas were dazzling but carefully within the boundaries of classical balance—particularly the second movement cadenza, in which Lin spun out filigrees of sound with breathtaking calm and patience.

However, the orchestra, pared down to Mozart size, got left pretty much on its own. It’s quite common for a violin soloist to lead the orchestra minimally—with a head nod here, a bow wave there—but this is a group that needs a little more attention. What Lin got was quite a lot of raggedness and hit-or-miss ensemble.

The Rimsky-Korsakov thrives on enthusiastic winds and strong-armed percussionists, and Apollo rose to the occasion here. The flutes and clarinets offered some wonderfully sensuous lines, and concertmaster Alexandra Mikhlin gave a coolly self-possessed account of her solo.

The concluding Brahms had problems. This is a piece that requires both the most exquisite aural balance and a sense of inexorable motion, but this performance got neither.

As was the case in Apollo’s concert at the same venue last March, the winds overwhelmed the strings throughout. Czarkowski could have toned them down some, but the imbalance seemed to be more an acoustical issue than a conducting problem. With the orchestra seated in a wide but very shallow space, the winds are closer to the front of the orchestra than usual. The backdrop acts as an acoustic shell and amplifies the sounds nearest it, in this case, the brass.

As attractive a space as it is, Church of the Little Flower may not provide the right venue for the Apollo Orchestra, which is almost certainly better than it sounds in that hall.

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