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A generous violinist, especially in performance

Known for outreach, Midori makes artful use of her gifts, channeling the spirit of composers.

November 01, 2005|Adam Baer | Special to The Times

Could there be a more appropriate Web address for the young philanthropist of the violin, Midori, than the one she has chosen,

After more than 20 years onstage, she isn't just her generation's most giving, selfless musical figure, continually spawning successful outreach programs and teaching on both coasts (at the Manhattan School of Music and, more recently, at USC, where she holds the Jascha Heifetz chair). She is also among its most generous performers, a fact that her recital Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall with pianist Charles Abramovic confirmed yet again.

Midori throws herself into scores without ego, shaping informed but freeing interpretations that extract the pure spirit of composers. "Go to Midori," it would seem, isn't just good PR but, rather, good advice for serious concertgoers.

Unlike sometimes in the past, psychological ice no longer hides the humanity of Midori's lustrous tone. And though she continues to enjoy more control over bow pressure, dynamics and articulation than nearly anyone, she now has the interpretive curiosity to make artful use of these gifts.

This was immediately evident Sunday in her lively, intimate reading of Mozart's A-major Sonata, K. 305, a long-lined interpretation made of small improvisatory moments that added playfulness and daring agility.

Then, in the darker of Prokofiev's two violin sonatas, the F minor, she dug deeper, channeling a composer's haunting qualities, giving the silence between notes peculiar drama before exhaling series of high, muted scales and hurling herself into stab attacks.

Most memorable was her ability to create a memory space -- to paint images of barren fields in the work's nostalgic third movement and let vocal phrases breathe. These sounds may have lacked the size, weight and folksy authenticity of older, throatier Russian performers, but in her wistful tempo changes toward the end, she found Prokofiev's anxiety.

Midori then offered Schoenberg's Phantasy, a high-modern collection of erratic tone and articulation changes she pulled off -- shifting on a dime from gliding artificial harmonics to stark declarations -- as naturally as any 12-tone composer could desire. Hearing it was like listening to a midcentury architect speak passionately of his angles.

The recital's closer, Beethoven's C-minor Sonata, attained quiet mystery as chamber-style motives played with compact focus -- tidy, subtle lines -- moved toward crises with undertones of suspense. Here, the artist could have skewed more demonstrative more often, but it's possible for a Beethoven lover to crave that from simply having heard the work played just a few winning ways for decades.

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