National Philharmonic and Soovin Kim: Predictable Tchaikovsky

June 5, 2011

National Philharmonic

The National Philharmonic has found a niche serving up chestnuts of the orchestral repertory. The ensemble even packages many of these programs of old favorites by composer, such as Saturday night’s “All Tchaikovsky” concert in the Music Center at Strathmore. What the idea lacks in programming ingenuity, it makes up for in predictability. It must have sold tickets, because the orchestra will perform a similar “All Tchaikovsky” program next season, too.

Violinist Soovin Kim was the highlight of the evening, a straight-backed, patrician virtuoso on the solo part of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. The winner of the 1996 Paganini Competition drew a golden tone from the 1709 “ex-Kempner” Stradivarius beginning in the first quiet measures, further impressing with precise, flashing finger-work and largely spot-on intonation, even in off-the-string and multiple-stop passages. The only real blemishes on a tour de force performance were a few scratchy, off-color high flautando notes in the first movement’s cadenza.

Conductor Piotr Gajewski kept the orchestral sound well contained, although it took a few bars for the ensemble to catch up to the soloist, as he darted away at each return of the theme in the fast third movement. Having recently released a recording of Paganini’s caprices, Kim turned instead to a slow Bach movement for an encore.

In the second half, the spotlight rested on the orchestra alone, in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a performance found sadly wanting by comparison to a sterling rendition two weeks ago by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The National Philharmonic’s growth as an ensemble is partly due to Strathmore’s warm, enveloping acoustic, but sloppiness in the violin section, unsettled intonation in the woodwinds (especially the oboes), too many clams in the horns and some overzealous trombone fortissimi were still too evident. Gajewski’s ideas about the piece, laying on too much treacle and bombast, did not help.

— Charles Downey

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