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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Guest violinist's rich tones enhance drama of concerto

By Gregory Shepherd
Advertiser Music Critic

Without a doubt Samuel Barber was one of the most underrated 20th-century American composers, a fate that befell him largely because of his compositional style that embraced beautiful sound at a time when more au courant composers were worshiping at the altar of ugliness.

But while the works of so many of those other composers have since been (thankfully) consigned to the dustbin of history, Barber's music lives on.

His early Concerto for Violin, Op. 14, while no masterpiece, has an immediate appeal by virtue of its soaring lyricism and dramatic pacing, not to mention the pungent spice of atonality the composer throws in from time to time.

The estimable talents of guest soloist Anne Akiko Meyers were just right for this work on Sunday's Honolulu Symphony Orchestra performance, since her tone is so rich and her sense of musical drama so keen. Meyers performed with the orchestra on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Her low notes in the opening of the first movement were full-bodied enough as to sound as though she were playing on a viola, and her passionate work on the rest of the movement was completely at the service of the music, without unnecessary theatrics thrown in.

She changes the frequency of her vibrato effortlessly, so that in one passage it is intense and concentrated for dramatic effect, the next relaxed and lyrical. The latter effect was heard to best effect in the songlike second movement in which she shared beautiful melodies with oboist Nancy Dimock.

The note-geyser that is the finale had Meyers all over the instrument's fingerboard with not one note out of tune. She is as fine a talent on the instrument as they come.

The rest of the program was a goulash of this and that, literally so in the case of the closing Hungarian Dances nos. 5, 6, and 7 by Brahms.

Constance Uejio's enchanting harp work on the Debussy "Danse sacree et profane" was a joy to listen to, and the work itself is an atmospheric delight, like the soundtrack for a pleasant dream.

Stravinsky's reputation as one of the most important composers of the 20th century, while thoroughly deserved, does not derive from his "Danses Concertantes for Chamber Orchestra." While initially spirited and intriguing to the ear, the work grows tedious since the idiom goes basically unchanged from start to finish.

After the 30th or 40th quirky shift of rhythm or meter you feel like saying, "Yes, Igor, we get the idea."

Mozart's "Overture to 'Don Giovanni' " opened the program with a panache that was occasionally matched by the rest of the material.

Gregory Shepherd has been The Honolulu Advertiser's classical music critic since 1987.