Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" made one of its rare Kennedy Center appearances last night in the Concert Hall, with violinist Jaime Laredo and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra offering full satisfaction to the "red priest's" large fan club.All the programmatic details were vividly presented: peasants dancing in the spring, the hunting of a stag in autumn, a variety of storms according to the season, and the slipping and sliding on ice in winter. These contrasted effectively with the feeling of warmth indoors by a fire while nature rages outside. Laredo is both a virtuoso and a chamber musician, and the two skills get a thorough testing in this music, which requires close ensemble rapport and brilliant dexterity. He delivered both in good measure, despite occasional, insignificant lapses of intonation in fast passage work.
Laredo has said that playing with this orchestra is something like playing with an enlarged string quartet, and last night's performance conveyed precisely that feeling. His gestures as a conductor were barely perceptible for a good part of the evening.
In the Vivaldi, he may have been able to give cues with his ears or eyebrows, but his hands were usually too busy with the solo part to do any conducting. In Arriaga's exquisite, sadly neglected Symphony in D, sitting in the concertmaster's position and playing as a member of the orchestra, Laredo would occasionally use his bow as a sort of baton, particularly for passages where the woodwinds had the spotlight. But most of the time he exercised leadership -- like the first violinist of a quartet -- simply by the way he played. It worked splendidly: The orchestra was always impressively unanimous in its phrasing and dynamics and beautifully balanced in its sound. The tempos in this work were often a shade on the slow side, but the playing was magnificent.
Laredo kept his seat but acted more like a conductor in the two works that featured his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, as soloist: Faure's "Elegie" (which could have been omitted with no great loss, giving the program a more manageable length) and Tchaikovsky's "Rococo" Variations. In these works, Laredo frequently dropped out of the first violin section and conducted with his bow -- with excellent results. The orchestra never covered even the softest passages of the soloist, but the effect was still that of a chamber music collaboration. Robinson showed neither the fiery temperament nor the gee-whiz technique of a first-line virtuoso, but these are hardly necessary with this music. Her playing was small in scale but nimble when dexterity was required and very rich in its variety of tone (always appropriately used) and in engaging little mannerisms of accent and phrasing