Renowned violinist Midori, a former stunning child prodigy, now in her late 30s, has diversified and lowered her concert profile somewhat. She earned a master’s in psychology from NYU, formed a music-education nonprofit, and is now chairman of the string department at USC’s Thornton School. Her concerts include a healthy mix of chamber music and community outreach events. On Wednesday evening at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, Midori teamed up with pianist Jonathan Biss, violist Nobuko Imai and cellist Antoine Lederlin in a program of Haydn and Schubert trios, plus the Dvorak Quartet in E-flat.
This was clearly an ad hoc assemblage — Biss has a full calendar of solo and chamber music engagements, while Lederlin is cellist of an orchestra in Switzerland and the currently touring Belcea Quartet. The results, while never falling below a professional standard, were unimpressive. In particular, Schubert’s monumental B-flat Trio cannot be just thrown together in this day and age, no matter how skillful the artists. The imprecise rhythms throughout the first movement (making no distinctions between 16th notes and triplets), the ignoring of Schubert’s detailed stresses and accents in the Andante, and the lack of any metrical feel in the Scherzo (every beat the same length and weight) bespoke haste in preparation. These were all fine players, but they presented little more than an expert read-through. There is a universe behind these notes, but we barely caught a glimpse.
Things were better in the Dvorak, Imai’s mahogany sound filling out the texture, and her musical maturity helping to center the proceedings. Midori has nothing of the diva in her; she is fully engaged with her ensemble and steps back whenever required. She is still a clean, accurate player, but the sound is not especially ingratiating. There was a want of bloom and color, particularly next to Lederlin. His solos in the Lento provided the most wholly satisfying string playing of the evening. Biss’s intelligent, detailed playing impressed anew, although in the Dvorak he was not completely successful in letting the strings through.
The concert was presented as part of the Chamber Music Across America series.
Battey is a freelance writer.