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Despite sensational technique, Midori misses Brahms' grandeur


Midori's appearance with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last night in Meyerhoff Hall made three things abundantly clear. She looks great in yellow; she plays the violin sensationally well; and she isn't yet mature enough to have much of an idea of what the Brahms Violin Concerto is about.

A 19-year-old violinist shouldn't be expected to give authoritative performances of pieces as profound as the Brahms Concerto, of course. But this listener heard Midori perform a superb Sibelius Concerto a month ago despite an indifferent accompaniment from conductor Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, so he had hopes. Last night, with a splendid accompaniment by Zinman and the BSO, Midori didn't get off the ground.

Her violin playing itself was extraordinary: It was almost preternaturally in tune, with a prodigiously large tone and with plenty of temperament. No one in the last quarter of the 20th century plays the Joachim cadenza more accurately or more thrillingly, and no violinist nowadays digs into the opening measures of the solo part in the first movement like such a spitfire.

But Midori's brilliant flame cast almost no heat and shed as little light. There was never any sense of the piece's huge arch, and too many passages sounded merely like passagework.

The brilliant zigeunermusik of the final movement came off best, but even here Midori might as well have been playing Vivaldi.

Zinman and the orchestra started the evening in a shaky manner in the initial movements of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. The conductor used a small, Nicholas Harnoncourt-like complement of players: two violists, two gambists, harpsichordist, cellist and bassist. But the players sounded insecure and tentative in the first movement -- the rhythm was slack and the playing not securely in tune. The second movement sounded better, but Zinman's ideas in so large a space as Meyerhoff seemed somewhat precious. The finale, however, was excitingly played.

The best thing on the program was Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. The first movement was merely "good" -- from Zinman's Mozart one has come to expect more than that -- but the second movement sang, the subtle rhythms of the minuet danced coquettishly and the contrapuntal final movement exploded in joy, grandeur and drama.

The program will be repeated tonight and Sunday afternoon.

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