Young violinist creates fireworks in Tchaikovsky Spectacular

By Truman Wang
August 16, 2014

Don’t let the popular program fool you. The concert that was billed as “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” contained elements that appealed to the classical music connoisseurs and dilettantes alike. The L.A. Phil returned to the familiar music after the wildly successful TchaikovskyFest last February, and did not show any signs of complacency or routine. If anything, this time around, they were even more fired up under the seasoned baton of Leonard Slatkin, renowned for bringing new insights into familiar orchestral works.

Not that the Phil’s own resident maestro Gustavo Dudamel was a slouch, but Slatkin’s approach to the same works was nothing short of a revelation, bespeaking decades of experience and familiarity. Under maestro Slatkin, the Marche slave became more than a military march. The lush strings accompanying the big folk tune and the noble brass resounding above the din of rowdy percussions gave an almost romanticized view of the military life. It was incredibly exhilarating and moving at the same time.

The Swan Lake Suite, likewise, showed a great deal of heart not only in the delicate love duet (kudos for the superb harp and violin solos), but also in the raucous Danse Russe and the symphonic Odette’s theme. Various solos and ensembles flowed into one another with swan-like pace and grace.

As much as I had relished the Violin Concerto performance during the TchaikovskyFest, Russian-born French violinist Alexandra Soumm’s playing here totally bowled me over (no pun intended). From the first bars of the opening movement, she commanded total attention with her highly forceful, yet carefully inflected phrasing typical of many great Russian violinists/ pedagogues of the past but rarely heard today. Her playing combined technical mastery as well as musicality of the highest order. This concerto may be a tired warhorse but here the steed charged ahead like Seabiscuit on fire. It was a gutsy, masculine reading but with a surprising amount of emotional gravitas from the 25-year-old violinist. Ms. Soumm's instrument, a 1785 Guadagnini ‘ex-Kavakos’, sounded positively golden.

The concert appropriately ended with the 1812 Overture and a cameo by the USC Marching Band in all their Trojan regalia splendor. Heart-pounding fireworks and electronic cannons capped a memorable evening of grand music-making.

Truman C. Wang is editor-in-chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.