Classical: Famed violinist Vadim Gluzman plays in Easton on Friday

By: Steve Siegel – February 1st, 2017

In anticipation of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s performance at the Williams Art Center at Lafayette College, in Easton, PA, on February 3rd, 2017.

Renowned violinist Vadim Gluzman seems to have a soft spot in his heart for the Lehigh Valley. He’s performed here twice in recitals presented by the Chamber Music Society of Bethlehem, and with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Lafayette College’s Williams Center in 2011.

In January 2016, he also joined the Reading Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s fiercely challenging Violin Concerto, Op. 35.

When the Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist last performed here with Orpheus, it was in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. On Friday, Gluzman returns to the Williams Center with Orpheus for the orchestra’s first-ever performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto.

Also on the program are Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Idylle” and “Danse Villageoise,” Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” and the premiere of a new work by Michael Hersch.

I had the pleasure of hearing Gluzman perform the Tchaikovsky with the Reading Symphony, and the performance was a real gem. Gluzman gave this overwhelmingly lyrical work its due with a big, golden, singing tone. And why not: his 1690 Stradivarius was the very instrument the concerto was written for. The difficult first movement, by turns graceful and urgent, is a real workout for any violinist, yet Gluzman took it in stride, and played almost continuously throughout.

The ferocious cadenza was a performance highlight, as were Gluzman’s dazzling pyrotechnics in the finale. Yet throughout it all, there was a complete lack of flashiness for its own sake — a sure sign of an artist of the first rank. It should be a treat to hear him perform it again with the conductor-less Orpheus.

We don’t hear too much of the French Romantic composer Emmanuel Chabrier these days, mostly because of his late start in composing and relatively small output. Known in his day as primarily a pianist, it was not until age 40 that he turned to composition as his full-time career. His works are characterized by brilliance, wit and vivid orchestral coloring.

“Idylle” and “Danse Villageoise” are two of four pieces originally for piano that Chabrier orchestrated between 1881 and 1888. Cesar Frank expressed his admiration for the pieces, remarking that they “linked their own time to that of Couperin and Rameau.”

Always enthralled by the British Isles, Mendelssohn was inspired by a visit to Scotland in 1829 to write two important works: the Fingal’s Cave Overture and the “Scottish” Symphony. The latter is a particularly stormy work with lots of vivid imagery. The dramatic opening theme was inspired by the rugged ruins of Holyrood Chapel, and the scherzo is replete with the kind of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” fairy dust that Mendelssohn spreads so liberally throughout all of his compositions. Folk melodies appear in the finale, an unusually powerful and militant movement for Mendelssohn that conveys an air of triumph after a battle.