Intoned Absurdity: This Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments

Julian Wachner, Kyung Wha Chung, Leonidas Kavakos
New York Times

Reaching for the Sky
The New York Philharmonic’s artist in residence this season, the violinist Leonidas Kavakos, plays Brahms’s Violin Concerto this weekend. In a Facebook Live concert and interview, he walked us through the first movement: a theme delivered in unison by the orchestra, then developed in typical sonata form in a 24-minute journey full of drama, contemplation and beauty. After the cadenza — a long, virtuosic solo passage written by the great 19th-century violinist Joseph Joachim — there is what Mr. Kavakos calls “a magical moment.” The violin, with a soulful vibrato, reaches higher and higher until it settles on heavenly C-sharp. Brahms, Mr. Kavakos said, “sends the violin up to the sky as the voice of an angel.”

A Cello’s Musical CPR

In the closing stretch of the Calidore Quartet’s atmospheric reading of Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, the cello suddenly seemed to malfunction. After a line wilted downward with an exhausted slide, the cellist Estelle Choi allowed her tone to flatline. Then, gradually, the held note seemed to revive through little pulsating additions of vibrato that sounded like musical CPR. Sure enough, the work’s opening motif came back to life; soon after the whole ensemble rallied and carried the piece over the finish line.

A Challenge Redoubled

The veteran Korean violin virtuoso, who retired in 2005 because of a hand injury, has been attempting a comeback in recent years. “To this day, I can’t practice, so all my work is done in my head,” Ms. Chung told The Juilliard Journal this month. You could appreciate her bravery in a marathon presentation of all six of Bach’s sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin at Carnegie Hall, but not entirely ignore the obvious difficulties involved. Still, trouper that she is, she rose impressively to the biggest moment of all with a stirring reading of the towering Chaconne that concludes the D minor Partita, decidedly more Romantic than Baroque in style yet persuasively delivered.

Appealing Astringency

Julian Wachner conducted Novus NY in the final program of its water-themed series at St. Paul’s Chapel on Lower Broadway on Thursday afternoon, and I attended mainly to rehear “Become Ocean,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning work by John Luther Adams. The performance was excellent, but I was also struck by “Through Which We Flow,” a new 15-minute work for strings by Jessica Meyer, a Novus violist. Its departure point was the lovely sound of works like the Dvorak and Tchaikovsky serenades, which Ms. Meyer quickly complicated, by dividing and redividing lines, and roughed up with astringent effects, like a creaking and croaking among the double basses midway through, which was then offset by squealing violins.

Read the rest of the review here