Monday, April 5, 2010

Steven Moeckel's Mastery of the Violin

Saturday night, Dr Desert Flower and had the pleasure of listening to Steven Moeckel's violin mastery, as he played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major for Violin & Orchestra, op.61, with the Phoenix Symphony. The Allegro me non troppo started off well. The Larghetto lulled me into a closed meditative state, and the Rondo Allegro was amazing. The entire Symphony Hall leap to their feet to give Mr. Moeckel 4 enthusiastic standing ovations, with frequent, boisterous shouts of "BRAVO!". Moeckel poured his heart and soul into the work, standing next to Michael Christie at the beginning of the work, Moeckel bobbed, swayed, leaned, attacked some passages, planting his feet at some points, and almost reeling back off them at several intensely difficult rapid crescendos. The music flowing from his violin beautifully mirrored his intense posture, accentuating it, amplifying, enhancing the work. It was, perhaps, the finest violin performance I have ever personally seen & heard. Magnificent.

After intermission, sans Moeckel, the Phoenix Symphony played Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F major, op.68. At first, I was ready to cringe, as I've commented here previously how Moeckel seems to often carry the string section. But, we were very pleasantly surprised.
First, the Violins:
Magdalena Martinic-Jercic stepped up superbly. Levon Zarasian beside her did his very best to follow her lead. Behind them, Nancy Livingston, Karen Sinclair played with passion as well. Jing Zeng and occasionally Chun-Yi Lu got into the performance as well - the other first violins, well... judging by bow movement, arm movement, head movement, cervical sway, facial expression, foot position, and over-all posture, it wold have been easy to see them listening to the performance, more than putting it on. And sure, you can say "motion doesn't dictate sound quality. Fingering, technique, bow pressure and a precision do" - and you'd have somewhat of a point... but string instruments make sound through vibration. Vibration is set up by the bow's motion over the strings... and if you are playing so rigidly as to look robotic, distance, disconnected, the sound you produce will not be too far away from that as well.

On the second violins, Anna Kim Kazepides mirrored Ms. Martinic-Jercic. Dumitru Lazarescu was a little more staid, but didn't appear to have a stick up... the back of his tux. Some of the female 2nd violins played with passion, but the bulk of the section, even during the fortissimo sections, seemed to perhaps be considering what they had for lunch earlier that day. I know that sounds kind of harsh, but from my 3rd row section B seat, I had a clear, unobstructed view of all the violins. I don't expect to see the musicians swaying and moving in amplitudes as large as Moeckel's, but sitting perfectly still, making minor bow movements, makes the musician look quite disconnected.

The violas and basses were doing their jobs. Beethoven doesn't write their voices in the forefront, and they did the youman's work of keeping things moving forward. Mark Deatherage did seem to put more than his 2 hours into the night's performance, as did Michael Kazepides and Steve Koscica on their massive basses.

The cellists sang their parts beautifully. Gal Faganel and Jan Simiz lead their section beautifully - Simiz at times appeared to be enraptured and on the verge of entering another plane of existence. There was no clear view to the other cellists, but the sound they produced was beautiful, precise, impassioned. One could see elbows, heads, and shoulders in movement, as the melodious sounds were sung forth.

For the woodwinds, Viviana Cumplido was marvelous as always. Alexander Laing gave a perfect performance. The oboes were precise, the bassoons supportive, as were the brass, which Beethoven sprinkled here and there throughout the symphony.

It as a wonderful performance, even without Moeckel playing the symphony. Christie appears to have over-come his fear of intense crescendos and powerful, dynamic chords... or more of the performers are following their principals' good examples and providing passionate, precise, beautifully presented musical masterpieces. Whatever it is, we hope the trend continues! Keep up the good work, Phoenix Symphony!

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