music August 17, 2012 00:00


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Japan's Ryu Goto floors the fans with breakneck Paganini and thrilling Tchaikovsky


Incredible Japanese violin talent Ryu Goto took centre stage at the Thai Cultural Centre on July 31 as part of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing Great Artists of the World series. 
Following in the illustrious footsteps of elder half-sister Midori – who was featured in the same series in 2004 – Goto is likewise a bona fide child prodigy who matured into an adult artist, having impressed and worked alongside many of today’s leading classical-music lights. 
Now 24, Goto treated the audience to a fine reading of Tchaikovsky’s evergreen concerto – performing with passion, technical exuberance and humour – on his 1715 Ex-Pierre Rode/Duke of Cambridge Stradivarius. 
Japanese conductor Chikara Iwamura opened the concert with the popular robust Polonaise from the opera “Eugene Onegin”, played with gusto and aplomb by the orchestra, and concluded proceedings with a heartfelt account of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. 
For the most part, Goto’s interpretation of the concerto followed the inherited performing tradition. Certain conventions regarding portimenti, bel canto style and rubato are forever ingrained in a work so established and universal, but Goto rose to the primary challenge of presenting this music afresh. 
The outer movements displayed dazzling technique and impeccable musicality, accompanied with precision by Iwamura, immediately attentive to Goto’s often-rapid fluctuations in tempo and mood. Entries and section transitions are hard to control in this concerto, but Iwamura couldn’t have been clearer. 
The orchestra responded accordingly. Throughout there was tight interaction with the soloist, an essential element of any successful performance. 
The central Canzonetta movement featured highly intimate and delicate duet work between soloist and individual woodwind players, not least with regards to intonation. This aspect was well honed all evening, but this movement in particular revealed good orchestral balance and tuning.
Goto’s encore was a jaw-dropping rendering of Paganini’s Opus 38 variations, Nel cor piu non mi sento. 
Often respected rather more for its groundbreaking technical bravura than musical content per se, it is nevertheless true that when a stellar Paganini specialist is on form, this fantastical, indulgent sub-genre of Romantic music makes sparks fly in the concert hall. 
Suffice it to say that Goto hardly missed a left-hand-pizzicato, a lightning-speed artificial-harmonic run, or anything else for that matter, in this staggering tour de force. There were perhaps rather more notes in the encore, which lasted a whole 11 minutes, than the featured concerto itself.
 After the intermission Maestro Iwamura returned to deliver a freshly insightful and masterfully paced account of Tchaikovsky’s penultimate symphony. 
Along with such other eternally iconic and endlessly played symphonies as Mozart’s 40th or Beethoven’s Fifth, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth continues to present a particular challenge to conductors and orchestras alike the world over vis-a-vis engaging interpretation, but this performance displayed real intensity and conviction from the orchestra. 
Strings, woodwind, brass and percussion had obviously been well rehearsed and they performed with relish, often shining, with notable individual contributions. 
The hushed opening Andante, so vital for setting this symphony on the right track, showcased the two clarinets playing in perfect unison, totally in control in their lower register. The transition into the subsequent Allegro con anima is always a test of quiet string ensemble, and this settled quickly to pave the way for the main body of this movement, played here with a searing intensity. 
Forever one of the ultimate orchestral warhorses, the second movement’s sublime opening French horn solo is always a moment of eager anticipation. Meeting an ultimate test of concert-hall nerve and technical control, principal horn Krit Vikornvongvanich deserves special mention, dispatching this solo flawlessly and with a warm, well-focused timbre. Andante cantabile is marked here, but also significantly the subtle indication con alcuna licenza – “with some freedom”. 
After Iwamura had established the initial hushed string-section intensity, the delicate rubato employed for the famous solo was judicious. The epic passionate climbs and climaxes which characterise the movement unfolded to reach feverish emotional heights, the audience moved enough here to applaud this movement separately – not usual concert etiquette, but seeming on this occasion appropriate.
The Florentine melody which opens the Valse was coaxed wistfully by the violins. This movement relates closely to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful ballets, not least the sparkling filigree 16th-note interplay between woodwind and strings. Iwamura held a tight rhythmic reign, steering the musicians cleverly through virtuosic passages notoriously vulnerable to rushing and instability. Pleasingly, here the structure was clear, taut, and controlled.
The finale followed attacca, the jubilant Andante maestoso always a sublime transformation of the first movement’s brooding minor-mode clarinet theme. From the ensuing Allegro Vivace, the orchestra was worked hard by frenetically fast tempos, culminating in the final Presto gallop and denouement, bringing to a triumphant conclusion an extremely good evening indeed for the BSO. 
A small but noticeable number of patrons had evidently attended only to hear Ryu Goto, or perhaps had to leave early for travel reasons, and didn’t return for the symphony. They missed out on an extremely accomplished rendition of this often hackneyed orchestral Titan, but the still near capacity and warmly appreciative audience applauded enthusiastically, with many also cheering in standing ovation as the BSO was brought to its feet.
The concert was the first in the 2012 Great Artists of the World Series, and part of the celebrations for Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday. It was organised by the Ministry of Culture and the Department of Cultural Promotions, in association with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation.