Concert Review: Violinist Midori Goto's exquisite and clear sound

Japanese-born violinist Midori Goto, more often referred to simply as Midori, is indefatigable. She not only performs and teaches at the highest level, and runs several non-profit charities that make music accessible to less fortunate communities, but in 2007 she was also appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

For this gala concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Saturday, she was joined by Finnish principal guest conductor Okko Kamu in Schumann's only violin concerto, completed less than three years prior to his death. The work has a convoluted history and was not performed until over 80 years after the composer's death.

The opening by the SSO was rich and polished, and Kamu took care to bring out the character of Schumann's orchestral part without overpowering the soloist. This worked especially well in allowing Goto to soar in the second movement, and to transition seamlessly into the dance-like final movement. It was a pity then, that the orchestra's upper strings were rather subdued in the first movement.

Goto's flowing technique and sinuous playing were a perfect fit to the introspective writing of the opening movement. She produced an exquisitely clear, singing tone on her Guarnerius violin, but the magic of her playing was not just in her technique, or her complete commitment to the performance. Rather it was how she brought coherence and musical sense to concerto that can sound disjointed in lesser hands, and is only now gaining the high regard that it fully deserves.

Completed in 1953 after Stalin's death, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 includes scenes of terror, despair and oppression that characterise so many of the composer's symphonies, although expressed with greater variety and a wider palette than in some of his earlier symphonies. Kamu conducted a performance in which the underlying gloom was offset by a sense of dignity and nobility in sound.

A young orchestra by international standards, the SSO produces a sound that varies widely depending on conductor. Even under their long standing principal guest conductor, just how the orchestra performs is hard to predict. This evening Kamu maintained superb rapport with and control over the orchestra, without sacrificing the character or excitement of the symphony, and the outcome was memorable. The ensemble was tight, and the short, frenetic second movement was particularly impressive. The climaxes and scenes depicting the horrors of the Stalinist regime were powerful, but played with full composure, and the finale captured well the sense of triumph over helplessness.

An extraordinary transformation in sound was witnessed in this concert, with the SSO achieving a notable improvement in orchestral tone and control, even compared to recent successful concerts. Kudos to Kamu for this, and here's hoping that what we heard becomes the new norm for the SSO.

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