Violinist Aleksey Semenenko debuts at Kennedy Center


Violinist Aleksey Semenenko (Christian Steiner)
January 29

By happenstance, I was sent to review two talented young violinists making their Washington debuts two days apart at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, both having won a brace of international competitions. On Tuesday, it was 24-year-old Aleksey Semenenko, presented by the Young Concert Artists of Washington.

Semenenko’s strengths include a spectacularly efficient bow-arm and musical ideas that are detailed, logical and sometimes appealingly impetuous. In Ysaye’s “Ballade,” his architecture was masterful, as he took his time to set off and build up each episode. He got slightly carried away on the last page, but this was still fine music-making. In the Beethoven A minor sonata, his wide variety of articulations explored every corner of the composer’s imagination. Paganini’s “I Palpiti” is one of the scariest tightrope walks in the literature, and that Semenenko got more than 90 percent of the artificial harmonics was a true triumph.

The Achilles’ heel here was in the tone production. Semenenko’s vibrato — done solely from his wrist — is tight and metallic. In the Debussy Sonata, his pianist, Inna Firsova, provided more contrast and variety. And in Chausson’s “Poème, and Kreisler’s “Caprice Viennois,” the many colors in the music all came out the same; the sound was focused but never took wing.

Decades ago, young string players were taught to listen to Heifetz, Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Fournier and to great singers; this was the cultural soil in which they developed. Today, this soil is also infused with the dry, citric sounds of baroque and early-classical groups as well as non-classical genres.Young artists now pick and choose from among these influences and also pick and choose whether and when they’re going to sculpt musically logical, singing phrases. Beauty of sound is only one expressive ingredient among many, and this relative neglect is writ large in too many otherwise remarkable talents now. Semenenko has a boatload of technique, but will need to re-examine his basic sound if he is to become a viable solo artist.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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