Any opportunity to hear the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in concert is a treat, and last night’s performance by Judith Ingolfsson with the Monterey Symphony under the direction of Max Bragado-Darman introduced us to a fine musician who demonstrated her love and respect for this great work.
It is amusing to read critic Eduard Hanslick’s reaction to the premiere performance of the concerto in Vienna on December 4, 1881, with violinist Adolph Brodsky (to whom the concerto was ultimately dedicated) and conductor Hans Richter. Hanslick described the work as “long and pretentious,” adding further that “the violin was not played, but beaten black and blue.”
After subsequent generations of performers and music lovers rejected Hanslick’s assessment, this concerto eventually became perhaps the most popular violin concerto in the repertoire. Ingolfsson opted to perform the original version of the concerto, without the cuts that Leopold Auer adopted to make the work more comfortable to play. Ingolfsson’s performance also avoided the flashy histrionics we sometimes hear and instead gave us a solid, slightly slower version that allowed us to hear details not always noticed in performances that exploit the work for the excitement of unbridled virtuosity. Most impressive in Ingolfsson’s performance were her lovely high harmonics that exhibited pure and perfect intonation.
The other major work on the program was Symphony No. 5 by Jean Sibelius. Written in 1915, during World War 1 (at a time when the flow of royalties from abroad had ceased, which caused him acute financial distress), this symphony went through several revisions culminating in the version we know today. In only three movements, this symphony makes a powerful impression, and Max Bragado-Darman and the symphony musicians gave it a richly detailed performance.
Opening the evening’s concert was a performance of a work I had not heard previously – Carl Maria von Weber’s Abu Hassan Overture. At about four minutes duration, this work, with its Turkish flavor evidenced by cymbals and triangles, seemed over before it began, but then an overture should never outstay its welcome.