Two talented musicians, each a master of her trade, graced the California Theatre Saturday, October 21, in a fine concert by Symphony Silicon Valley. Taiwanese conductor Mei-Ann Chen led music by Dvorak, Khachaturian and Brahms that had verve and elastic energy, supported by violin soloist Mayuko Kamio, gold medalist of the 2007 International Tchaikovsky Competition. The high spirits of the evening found welcome expression in two encores, each performed by the respective artists: Kamio performed the unaccompanied Caprice No. 24 from Paganini’s Op. 1, that in A Minor, the very inspiration of compositions by Liszt, Brahms, Lutoslawski, and Rachmaninov. After an absolutely rousing ovation following an expansive performance of the Brahms Third Symphony, conductor Chen and her responsive, enthusiastic Symphony Silicon Valley performed the complement of the Dvorak Slavonic Dances, the famous Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor, in the Martin Schmeling arrangement.
Chen opened with a triptych of Slavonic Dances from the composer’s Op. 46 (1878) and Op. 72 (1886), including the G Minor, E Minor, and C Major. The G Minor from Op. 46 literally exploded forth, a furiant in rich panoply and infectious rhythms, with burnished colors from the Silicon Valley winds and trombones. The E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2 proffered a tender dumka, melancholy and tender. The tumultuous C Major, Op. 72, No. 7 proved as rambunctious as it is infectious, a Serbian kolo that pulls out all the stops. From these three dances, we observed a suave, flexible baton technique brandished by a conductor whose every gesture, from hand to hip, evoked music played at the peak of excellence.
Violinist Kameo makes a striking appearance, personally and musically. In a flowing robe of a dress, Ms. Kameo plied her 1735 Guarneri del Gesu, the “Sennhauser,” rife with broad vibrato, in the 1940 Khachaturian Concerto in D Minor, originally conceived with David Oistrakh in mind. Khachaturian exploits his Armenian/Georgian heritage for its surfeit of folk and exotic musical materials, consistently rife with color elements taken from pentatonic and modal scales. Slashing rhythms and acerbic, augmented seconds and enharmonic shifts, along with pungent attacks mark both the solo and orchestral parts, complemented by no end of soaring melodies. The clarinet and harp components, add a degree of vocal exoticism we might associate with Scheherazade.
The sheer number of notes and perpetual energy of the music demands a superhuman stamina from the soloist that Kameo had no trouble maintaining. With a studied, often thrilling cadenza – at moments accompanied – Kameo proffered a first movement that everyone found compelling in a work too often overlooked or underestimated. So, too, the lovely Andante sostenuto movement gave us a Romantic sense of fluency and melodic ease of motion associated with Armenian folk tunes. If virtuoso pyrotechnics must prevail, the last movement, Allegro vivace worked wonder in split-second finger and dynamic adjustments for the solo, as well as wildly inventive rhythms in rondo form. No wonder the audience would not let Kameo go, not until she dazzled everyone once more with some molten Paganini.
The Brahms Third Symphony in F Major, Op. 90 (1883) projects a thoughtful and passionate but melancholy mood. Its idiosyncratic F-A-flat-F motif, emblematic of the composer’s Frei aber froh, has its complementary F-A-flat-E, Frei aber einsam, freedom juxtaposed with loneliness. Chen took the opening measures as an upbeat and then swung into a potent, deliberate sense of accumulated energies; only to dissolve the motion in order to take the repeat. Much in the manner of the Beethoven Fifth, the music possesses a “cyclical” aspect, repeating its opening ideas in vaporous colors at the symphony’s end. Brahms loves to waver between F Major and F Minor, often casting the latter mode in a “fate” motif, to the point that the last movement quite asserts the Beethoven Fifth motto.
As much as the music often shines in the rich trumpet and trombone parts, the cello lines of this work remain somber and nostalgically yearning. Brahms will establish a potent momentum and then break off, a trait Hugo Wolf severely criticized when he complained that “Brahms cannot exult.” Nevertheless, for those who appreciate the rich contours and autumnal beauties of the Brahms interior movements, the lovely Andante – my own favorite – and the pained Poco Allegretto, used in the film Undercurrent – bore an especial urgency and depth of conviction. The finale, Allegro, had girth and muscular sensuousness, once more asking strings, winds and febrile brass to strut their blended ensemble. And at each ovation, conductor Chen put her hand to her ear, inviting the audience ever to increase the volume of their affection. The Hungarian Dance encore came directly as a result of Chen’s appreciation of the Brahms/Dvorak friendship.