Review: Clara-Jumi Kang joins the ICO 

***1/2
click to enlarge 2010 IVCI gold medalist Clara-Jumi Kang assumes a non-playing position
  • 2010 IVCI gold medalist Clara-Jumi Kang assumes a non-playing position

Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann and . . . Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber -- who's he? Our usual assumption is that he's just another of many unknown contemporary composers trying to find the big time. But actually Biber came from the middle Baroque period (1644-1704). His Battalia for Strings and Continuo (1673) might pass for new music if you heard only its second movement, a mélange of tunes in different keys and different rhythms, all sounding together. The other seven parts of this 15-minute piece are simple, straightforward, and in one key each.

Battalia opened the IVCI-ICO joint program on Friday to a filled Indiana History Center's Basile Theater. ICO music director Kirk Trevor verbally introduced the work but handed its direction over to the orchestra's new concertmaster, Emily Glover. She played and directed her strings with good precision, even the "troubling" second movement. It's a curious piece perhaps needing to be played occasionally for "historic" reasons.

From the backwaters to the mainstream, the IVCI's 2010 gold medalist Clara-Jumi Kang then appeared--Trevor returning to the podium -- for Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61. I've previously stated that this is far from Beethoven at his best. His first movement lasts 24 minutes, possibly the longest instrumental movement he ever wrote (can anyone find one longer?). Furthermore it's too repetitive, with angular thematic material and vapid harmonic construction. Its final two movements are collectively shorter than the first -- and better.

Kang overall did a splendid job with this material, articulating her passages well and maintaining nicely controlled tonal vibrancy (Beethoven does provide lots of challenges for the solo instrument). Presumably she was playing the "ex-Gingold" Strad made available for all current gold medalists for the four years they hold that position. She'll have to surrender it in 2014. In any case Kang made lovely sounds throughout.

Trevor ended the program with Schumann's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 38 ("Spring"). A delightful work, spreading its panoply from the composer's previous piano music to full orchestra without changing his style, it is "Schumannesque" throughout. Trevor incorporated more tempo nuances than he does for Classical-era symphonies which may be appropriate, but not everyone does it to his extent. The three-trombone bridge from the second to the third movement was a highlight. The work is helped by having fewer strings, allowing the winds, horns and brass to heighten the timbres from Schumann's typically bland orchestration. March 15; Indiana History Center

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