The Bruch Violin Concerto in G Minor is so beautifully calibrated for the soloist that in spite of its technical pitfalls--double and triple stops at dizzying tempos, densely chorded passage work--bad performances are rare. Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's performance Tuesday night at Wolf Trap with the Philadelphia Orchestra was something special, though, not so much because of her vibrant command of the instrument but because of her magically rapt way with Bruch's lyricism.
In the slow movement she began with a true pianissimo that haltingly, chastely and inevitably assumed melodic shape. One knew at that heartfelt moment, when the violinist's tone was gentled down to an almost inaudible wisp, that she was ardently infused with the music, lost in it; that the melody would grow naturally without losing its touching immediacy and simplicity; and that Bruch's uniquely personal sentiment would reach larger sonic transformations without ever sounding generic or merely sensual. This is why people go to concerts.
Conductor James DePreist had the orchestra contributing sympathetically in the Bruch--the blend with the soloist was immaculate--but Rossini's Overture to "La Gazza Ladra" sounded grimly efficient and unsmiling. Rossini's broad invitations (jesting wit, hairpin dynamic curves, parody) were largely ignored in favor of clean balances and phrasing. DePreist maintained tension in Brahms's Symphony No. 1, emphasizing the uncompromising severity of much of the writing, but his spare, workmanlike conducting made for a more astringent sound than we usually hear from this orchestra, and the moment-to-moment shifts of tempo and weight latent in the score were sacrificed almost entirely.