Arabella Steinbacher's Room-Filling Sound

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tuesday night may have been the last chance we in the Washington area will have to hear German violinist Arabella Steinbacher in a venue as intimate as the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium, where she played Mozart's Fifth Violin Concerto with the Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn and its music director, Ruben Gazarian.

A protege of longtime star German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, Steinbacher showed her chops in two jaw-droppingly difficult encores by Fritz Kreisler and Eugene Ysaye, playing them with wit and aplomb. (For the first, Steinbacher was able to borrow Kreisler's own Guarneri violin, which the library had lent to Heilbronn concertmaster Nanna Koch for the evening.)

But more than sheer technical prowess, the Mozart concerto requires a keen sense of classical proportion and lyricism. Steinbacher was equal to this task as well, unspooling the concerto's succession of winsome melodies with fresh, joyful grace and an unfailingly lovely tone, with welcome spice from such moments as the electrifying "Turkish" episode in the finale. Hers is a talent that seems destined to fill much bigger halls soon.

This is not to overlook Gazarian and his musicians from Heilbronn, who came to Washington as part of their first U.S. tour and gave Steinbacher perfectly judged support. They began the concert with Mendelssohn's Sinfonia No. 10, a youthful work whose high spirits came off well, and went to another musical world after intermission with Hans Stadlmair's transcription of Bruckner's string quintet. Here Gazarian led the orchestra in playing so unified, purposeful and passionate that this ungainly, uneven work coalesced into something quite powerful, with the lush, aching adagio reaching a startling intensity.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

© 2005 The Washington Post Company