Chee-Yun sizzles in Piazzolla's 'Seasons'

Cincinnati Inquirer

A stunning violinist and a fine candidate for music director added up to another exceptional concert by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in the second week of its “Summermusik” festival.

Violinist Chee-Yun delivered a performance of Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” that positively sizzled, the highlight of Saturday’s concert in Corbett Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. And there was more to admire in the program conducted by Christopher Zimmerman, who was auditioning for music director of the 32-member Chamber Orchestra.

What a treat it was to hear Chee-Yun in her return to Cincinnati. The star violinist, who served briefly on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, dazzled with her technical fireworks as well as her depth of feeling. Most of all, she seemed to be having fun.

“Tango king” Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” (Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas) is a tango-inflected homage to Vivaldi’s set of four violin concertos, “The Four Seasons.” Chee-Yun performed the arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov, originally for violinist Gidon Kremer, which increases the virtuosities for the soloist and adds witty musical snippets from Vivaldi.

The order of Piazzolla’s Seasons was Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring – unlike Vivaldi's, in which Winter comes last. (It’s too bad the order was not listed in the program.)

The violinist’s playing was electrifying in the challenging cadenzas and solo passages, and haunting in the Argentinean composer’s unforgettable melodies. There were wonderful special effects, such as slapping pizzicatos, scratchy playing close to the bridge and “col legno” – using the wood of the bow – by both soloist and orchestra.

“Summer” began with a tongue-in-cheek tune and atmospheric glissandos by the strings. Chee-Yun communicated the lovely theme at its center with a sweet, almost vocal sound on her extraordinary violin, a 1669 Francesco Ruggieri.

Throughout the work, she played with spontaneity, pulling back for a rapturous melody and pushing ahead into supercharged flights of virtuosity. One of the most memorable moments was the slow tango mood of “Autumn,” in which the violinist phrased with expressive beauty amidst displays of searing fireworks. The piece was enhanced by a lovely improvisatory solo for cello (Patrick Binford).

It was breathtaking, from start to finish. The finale, “Spring,” began as a full-blooded tango for orchestra, before the violinist slid into one of Piazzolla’s sensuous themes. Zimmerman was an excellent partner, who seamlessly followed the soloist’s many changes of mood and tempo, and kept an excellent balance. The crowd was instantly on its feet.