Rutland Herald
By Jim Lowe
March 12, 2013
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Music Review: VSO challenges and rewards

Christopher Berkey for The New York Times
Provided Photo Violinist Jennifer Koh works with composer David Ludwig.

Sunday’s intriguing concert at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra might well be titled “intimate lyricism.” Not only did it open and close with lyrical works by J.S. Bach and Mozart, it featured two contemporary works that thrived on those qualities. (The same program was presented Friday at the Bellows Falls Opera House and Saturday at Burlington’s Flynn Center.)

It was Bach’s Concerto in d minor, BWV 1043, that set the tone for the concert’s first half, comprising three concertos for two violins and strings. Music Director Jaime Laredo led from the solo violin, with the other part being played by Jennifer Koh, a former student and now up-and-coming world-traveling virtuoso.

Although one of the most popular works in the repertoire, this concerto had a decidedly different flavor. Traditionally, one solo violin imitates the other, but this performance was more of a conversation between two disparate but very friendly artists.

Laredo plied his trademark silky tone with an unusually personal nuanced expressiveness, while Koh played with a more earthy brilliance. More importantly, the two played with real intimacy that made the beloved slow movement, Largo, truly sing. It was gorgeous and personal.

Laredo’s tempos in the first and third movements were brisk, following today’s fashion. The VSO strings played with spirit and style.

The revelation on Sunday’s program was David Ludwig’s brilliant “Season’s Lost.” The work for two solo violins and string orchestra was premiered in May by the Delaware Symphony but was substantially revised by the composer since then, making the weekend’s performances virtually a premiere. The four movements reflect the seasons but also reflect the damage of global warming.

The opening “Winter” delivers the starkness of the season, with the solo violins weaving intimately and lyrically over the ethereal background of the strings. With “Spring” comes brilliance, accelerating in anticipation.

“Summer” is engulfed in heat, sometimes sultry, sometimes uncomfortable and stormy. “Fall” begins with a frenzy that is occasionally interrupted by moments of lyricism before dashing rapidly to the finale.

“Seasons Lost” is a dramatic journey — sometimes pastoral, sometimes stormy — effectively employing both tonal and atonal musical language in telling its story. With only strings, Ludwig manages to color the story effectively and beautifully. The overall effect was fascinating and emotionally powerful.

Laredo and Koh played their solos as if they were written for them — as, indeed, they were. Vinay Parameswaran, a Curtis Institute colleague of Ludwig’s, deftly led the VSO strings in this exciting performance.

Ludwig’s storm-laden work was strongly contrasted by the super-lyrical “Echorus” by Philip Glass. Written to evoke serenity and peace, the work backs the singing violins with a repetitive theme in varying moods. Laredo, Koh and the VSO, again led by Parameswaran, delivered a sensually beautiful performance.

Sunday’s concert closed with another of the repertoire’s most popular lyrical works. Laredo led the VSO, winds and strings, in a classical but impassioned performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550. Without losing the work’s turgidity, Laredo’s approach was light and lyrical. Even the slow movement, Andante, was so light it sang.

The VSO, under Laredo’s direction, continues to challenge Vermont audiences with the new and exciting, while reassuring them with fresh performances of the tried and true.

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