No one will ever accuse Chee-Yun of having been made by a cookie cutter. The young Korean violinist does not sound like anyone else, nor does she attempt to do so. Her performance last night in Kraushaar Auditorium with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and conductor Anne Harrigan took a take-no-prisoners approach to the Mendelssohn Concerto. The corner movements were unusually fast and exciting. She was not afraid of taking risks, fearlessly attacking her instrument even if it meant that the beautiful tone that characterizes her playing turned strident for a second here and there.
Make no mistake, however; this was not a brutal or aggressive interpretation of the slash-and-burn kind that has taken a somewhat older virtuosa -- who was also a student of Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School -- to the top of her profession. Chee-Yun was interested in excitement and speed, to be sure, but she put those qualities at the service of the concerto.
Chee-Yun's was also an interpretation to which one could apply the term poetic. Her pianissimos were as magical as her bravura was dramatic and her tone was perpetually singing at all dynamic levels. The slow movement may not have supplied enough sentiment and repose for some listeners -- particularly after so intense a first movement -- but the young violinist shaped its melody with finesse and eloquence. The violinist's surging account of the finale brought the audience instantly to its feet with cheers.
The orchestra gave Chee-Yun an adequate accompaniment in the Mendelssohn. But their playing elsewhere on the program was surprisingly disappointing, particularly for an ensemble with so many fine players.
Part of the problem was that Harrigan was not having one of her better nights. Her account of Beethoven's Overture to "The Creatures of Prometheus" was filled with awkward jolts and thrusts. But Beethoven can survive, even thrive on, a rough-and-ready approach.
Mozart's Symphony No. 38, which concluded the program, sometimes sounded as if it were being performed by a community orchestra: wind intonation was poor and the ensemble often sloppy.