Performance Review: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

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Performance Review: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

The Jacksonville Symphony’s Florida Blue Classical Series presented “Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto” this weekend, a generous program of three beloved symphonic masterpieces that saw a return to the podium of former Jacksonville Symphony Associate Conductor Nathan Aspinall.

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy

The concert began with Debussy’s shimmering Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Principal Flute Les Roettges led us into Debussy’s sultry harmonic landscape, sculpting the famous opening melody with care and imagination. The woodwind section was particularly noteworthy all throughout the performance, consistently displaying a keen ear for melody and balance. Aspinall led the orchestra with great attention to dynamic subtlety, which is so essential in this delicate score. This was the perfect opener for the rich offerings to come.

Interested in learning more? Explore a full set of Program Notes.

Violin Concerto in D major by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s monumental Violin Concerto in D major was second on the program, featuring guest soloist Timothy Chooi. From the opening lines it was clear that Chooi identified very closely with this legendary work. Combining heft of tone with incredibly precise intonation, Chooi rendered each and every bar with the highest level of virtuosity and conviction. Perfect technique is a given for an internationally acclaimed artist, but what struck me most about Chooi was his ability to truly make the violin sing; the way his melodic sense enabled him to communicate the visceral passion and pathos of this score with such clarity.  Everyone in the hall was held in rapt attention, hanging onto each phrase and gesture. Throughout the performance Chooi was consistently able to find fresh new meanings and subtleties in passages that in lesser hands could come off as rote. Chooi’s rendering of the fearsome first movement cadenza was particularly noteworthy for its combination of blazing speed and delicate control, backed up by an unerring lyrical sense. Aspinall and the Symphony were responsive partners, playing with balance and sensitivity. This performance so impressed the audience that they leapt to their feet in ovation after just the first movement!  Following the concerto Chooi treated the audience to an encore, his own arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which he performed with Jacksonville Symphony concertmaster Adelya Nartadjieva.

Symphony No. 2 in D major by Jean Sibelius

After intermission came Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major. The woodwind section once again shined brightly throughout, having been entrusted by Sibelius with many of the work’s most memorable melodies. A particular high point for me was the rendering of the ominous bassoon lines in the second movement, which almost took on the feel of a medieval plainchant.  Aspinall’s tempos were always well-considered and allowed Sibelius’ imposing musical paragraphs the space they needed to truly breathe. The Symphony’s formidable brass section was on stage in full force and played with grandeur throughout, particularly in the imposing final movement where they joined with the rest of the orchestra to bring the Symphony, and the evening as a whole, to a resplendent conclusion.

“Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto” was one of those concerts where the programming choices, performers and audience were all in perfect alignment, and the result was truly an event to remember.

Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as the classical music reviewer. 

Watch, Listen and Read

Interested in joining the Jacksonville Symphony for another innovative and engaging season? Please visit our 2022/23 Season page to learn more about the upcoming season programming. Additional content for this performance includes a full set of Program Notes. Looking for more content? Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to watch concert archives, interviews, behind the scenes content and more.

The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Florida Blue for sponsoring the Classical Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

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