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At Kennedy Center, Midori gives only a teasing glimpse behind the gloss

By Stephen Brookes,

The violin superstar Midori — who burst onto the world stage at 14 and still, decades later, seems saddled with the “prodigy” label — maintains the driving concert schedule of a celebrity, playing major concertos in one huge hall after another. So it was a rare opportunity to hear her in the more intimate setting of the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Thursday night, when she offered up a mostly Beethoven recital (with pianist Ozgur Aydin) that promised to be a more personal — and maybe even revelatory — glimpse into the heart of this notoriously private musician.

Or . . . possibly not. Midori played three of Beethoven’s violin sonatas, interwoven with 20th-century works by Anton Webern and George Crumb, and played with consummate musicianship but a kind of keep-your-distance professionalism almost the entire time. She opened with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 12 No. 2 — a work so mincingly agreeable you almost felt embarrassed for the composer — and Midori and Aydin gave it a reading full of sunshine, curtsies and pasted smiles.

The Violin Sonata No. 6 in A, Op. 30 No. 1 had more blood in its veins, but it was played with a kind of calculated, impenetrable polish that left you impressed but oddly unmoved.

Midori’s cool professionalism worked to better advantage, though, in the modern works on the program. She made Webern’s laconic, miniature Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 7 as perfect and infinitely mysterious as one of Joseph Cornell’s famous boxes, and the Four Nocturnes by Crumb was also beautifully done, full of exotic timbral effects from violin and piano that evoked fraught whispers, disturbing dreams and the menacing things that seem to prowl Crumb’s unquiet nights.

All of this, though, was just prelude to the climax of the evening, Beethoven’s great “Kreutzer” Sonata, Op. 47. Midori turned in a bravura performance of this exhilarating work, head lowered as if charging into a hurricane, and captured the rough, sweeping drama of the thing. Maybe it didn’t have the savage intensity of Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s game-changing 2008 recording of the work, but it drew more out of Midori than mere virtuosity — and gave us a brief, intriguing glimpse into the woman behind the gloss.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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