Midori – 20th Anniversary Album
It seems astonishing that Midori, only just in her thirties, has been before the public for 20 years. It was in 1982, when she moved to New York with her mother to study with Dorothy DeLay, that her career seriously began, leading on New Year’s Eve to a sensational début with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. Recordings followed soon after, and here to celebrate the anniversary come two discs which not only demonstrate her mature mastery in completely new recordings, but also provide an illuminating insight into her progress by offering a live radio recording of Wieniawski from St Louis, made in September 1988.
Wieniawski’s First Violin Concerto has never matched No 2 in popularity, but Midori’s involving performance makes one wonder why. As a test I put it alongside Itzhak Perlman’s EMI version with the LPO under Ozawa, and – perhaps not surprisingly – her live account is more volatile and more freely expressive, with even the conventional passage-work given an extra sparkle. She also chooses a more flowing Larghetto for the central ‘Preghiera’ (Prayer) slow movement, which brings out the songful lyricism more persuasively, with her first entry magically hushed, full of natural gravity. The dotted rhythms of the Rondo finale are then even more playful. The radio recording is full and forwardly balanced, but the range of dynamic and expression in Midori’s playing is never compromised.
In the encore pieces which make up the rest of the disc, recorded in May 2001, the range of dynamic is again remarkable. She plays the opening item, Hartmann’s arrangement of Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’, with such delicacy she seems simply to be musing to herself, and her simple gravity in Elgar’s Chanson de nuit, the last item, taken steadily, turns it into a sort of prayer. Such an approach could easily have lapsed into sentimentality, but emphatically not so here. Kreisler’s Spanish dance, La Gitana, and his arrangement of Poldini’s ‘Poupée valsante’ make a delightful contrast, full of fantasy; and the longest of the pieces, Amy Beach’s Romance, brings the widest contrasts of dynamic and expression, making it far more than a salon piece.
It may seem odd that the three French violin sonatas on the second anniversary disc, also recorded in May 2001, are presented in reverse chronological order. Yet one can understand why when the reading of the Poulenc Sonata, which comes first, is the most revelatory of the three, strongly characterised in the outer movements and meditative in the central Intermezzo, Très lent et calme. Midori also plays the late, freely inventive Debussy Sonata almost as though it is an improvisation, a magnetic performance, while in the two-movement Saint-Saëns Sonata she follows up her impulsive reading of the long first movement with a sparkling account of the finale, ending her sequence full of fun.
On both discs Robert McDonald proves an outstanding partner, always supportive, and winningly taking the odd opportunity to shine in his own right, as in the swirling glissandi of La Gitana. Both discs offer rather short measure, but quality is what matters.