Jennifer Koh Is Sublime in Marin Season Opener

Jennifer Koh
San Francisco Classical Voice

By Steven Winn

The Marin Symphony powered up to open its 2017–18 season Sunday afternoon at the Marin Center Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael. First with the orchestral showpiece Night on Bald Mountain and later on in Tchaikovsky’s fervent Symphony No. 4, the ensemble displayed a bright and impressively steely sound. The strings gleamed. The brasses sang out in full-throated choruses, led by a sterling complement of French horns. Timpanist Tyler Mack was by turns crisp and thundering in his peerless attacks.

But it was the gentler and more expansive work that came in the middle of the program that made the day something truly special. With a sublime Jennifer Koh as soloist, Music Director Alasdair Neale led a graceful, lucid and deeply affecting performance of Samuel Barber’s 1941 Violin Concerto. Right from the start, with Koh unfolding the opening subject in a warm and confiding manner, an air of sensitive, nuanced responsiveness took hold.

When the strings took up the theme, they both mirrored and expanded on the soloist’s eloquence. Koh’s exchange with the clarinet seemed to reframe the movement’s argument on fresh new terms, which were in turn intuitively felt by the horns and then the rest of the band. Gradually a more mournful, even tragic veil descended, even as the solo violin took on a probing new radiance.

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