Violinist provides the highlight in mixed Modus concert

Fri Dec 01, 2023 at 1:50 pm
By John Hohmann
Chloé Kiffer performed Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto with the Modus Operandi Orchestra Thursday night.

Not until the second movement of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in G minor, did the nuanced playing of the Modus Operandi Orchestra, a welcome community resource, fully come into its own. In particular, the string section’s spicatto playing was quietly breathtaking. 

Until then conductor Justin Bischof seemed to lean more on a bombastic approach at Merkin Concert Hall. The evening opened with a turbulent but uneven rendition of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.

Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto is a masterful work not heard often enough in concert halls. Known in his career as the “African Mahler,” his ability to harness evocative themes and create gorgeous interplay between violinist and orchestra more than triumphs over such careless labeling. Following somewhat disjointed orchestra playing in the first movement, MOO played with greater precision and passion throughout the remaining two movements.

Violinist Chloé Kiffer returned the favor with rhapsodic bowing, whether in legato or staccato modes, and purity of tone. In the first movement, she maintained a lyrical intimacy in contrast to the orchestra’s bold expression of its theme. Muted strings send her a nocturnal song in the second that she captures smoothly, creating what feels like an uninterrupted phrase. In a display of sheer virtuosity Kieffer embellishes the work’s rhapsodic dance in the final movement providing a delicate balance to this majestic and complex concerto.

The program, aptly titled “Three Great Romantics,” concluded with Brahms’ Symphony No.1, composed, as Brahms frequently proclaimed, in Beethoven’s shadow. 

That shadow loomed large in Bischof’s big-sound approach. The result was largely bereft of emotional involvement and subtle variation creating a feeling of redundancy rather than exquisite construction. 

The brass section of this ensemble managed to display strong and refined work, especially in the Coleridge-Taylor. The woodwinds too added a lustrous presence throughout, happily exempt from the prevailing clamor.  

Leave a Comment


 Subscribe via RSS