When I assessed Jinjoo Cho's playing at the ninth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, I found her unworthy to be "crowned" with gold medal status, her playing being exceeded by two others among the six laureates. Yet in discussing her performance of the Korngold Violin Concerto in the Romantic Finals, I had stated: "This was one of Cho's better accounts, with her finger work never straying into adjacent pitches. Yet she failed to project Tessa Lark's smoothness, her vibrato sounding more like a series of interrupted tremolos. Her rapid display passages in the third movement were occasionally roughly executed."
Well this time Cho tackled the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, and forced me to arrive at a bit of an altered conclusion. Her sustained notes in the first two movements still showed somewhat excessively rough opulence. But her continuously rapid staccato notes in the Finale were cleanly executed throughout, dazzling the audience in a hall nearly two-thirds filled.
She displayed chops that I didn't quite hear in her competition performances, raising my estimate of her abilities. Moreover her projection into the hall constantly drew attention to her at least equally to that of the orchestra. The standing ovation got for us a solo encore: a violin arrangement of George Gershwin's "Summertime" from his opera Porgy and Bess. I must say her playing of it seemed a bit withdrawn after the fireworks she had wrought in the Tchaikovsky. Or was it that I prefer to hear that great song sung by a great diva?
British conductor Michael Francis, making his second podium appearance here, struck his own sparks at least equal to those of Cho. He began with Mendelssohn's Overture to Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 27--not among his better concert opuses. But Francis, with crisp, exacting baton work, got corresponding playing from his orchestra: perfect phrasing, excellent dynamic shaping, continuous precision. After experiencing that opener, I expected and got similar finesse in the Tchaikovsky, and especially in the big closing work, Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations.
Written at the turn of the 20th century, Elgar's variations were once again to put British music into the classical spotlight after a failure of the realm to hatch a major composer since Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Portraying a psychological study of 14 of his friends, with a theme rather concealed beneath a larger theme "not heard," Elgar gives us a panoply of nostalgia oriented music. Many believe the theme that is heard derives from the second subject in Mozart's middle movement of his "Prague" Symphony, and I must agree that there are strong resemblances. But Elgar stated that his theme sources will remain an "enigma"--hence the title.
Nonetheless, it was a joy to hear the Enigma so well shaped and spun. Michael Francis needs to return to the Circle podium.Oct. 16, Hilbert Circle Theatre