Violin superstar Cho-Liang Lin performed a concert with the Apollo Orchestra at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon. Even after more than four decades of performing, he can still wow a crowd with his playing. However, Lin’s efforts as a conductor, in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, didn’t go so well. unrolled.
In the first move, independent Apollo players often got out of sync with Lin; he would begin a new phrase in front of the orchestra, or end one with a slight accelerando as his accompaniment trailed a tick behind. He noticed and began to bend over to coordinate more carefully with the first violin section in particular. The second violins and violas, seated across from the first violins, also sounded hesitant, with occasional intonation issues. The slow movement flowed a bit more smoothly, but in the finale it gave a strong minuet boost to the orchestra that ended up feeling more leaden than danceable.
That aside, Lin’s solo playing sounded wonderful, with graceful phrasing underlined by a clear, bright tone appropriate to the music. The high-pitched rhythms of the “Turkish” section of the finale unfolded with a sharp attack from soloist and orchestra. However, the performance as a whole would have benefited from someone who could listen to everything, set a common tempo, coordinate inputs and outputs, and ensure a euphonic listening experience – in short, a conductor.
As if to prove it, Lin then ceded the podium to Apollo Orchestra Music Director Stephen Czarkowski and ripped through an exhilarating performance of Pablo Sarasate’s violin showcas.and Zigeunerweisen. Not only did Lin seem more assured, but so did the orchestra, sounding more cohesive and playing better together. Zigeunerweisen has no deep depths to fathom, but its surface shone and dazzled on Sunday.
Thereafter, Lin bravely sat at the back of the first violins to join the orchestra in the last work of the program, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. (At first, Lin’s violin projected so loudly that he sounded distinctly from the other violinists; after a few minutes, he integrated better.) The Apollonians also did not come through this symphony without a few shaky moments, but the performance began to take flight in the raucous rhythms of the Minuetto which might as well be a scherzo, followed by a rousing finale.
The only work on Sunday’s program that did not involve Cho-Liang Lin in some way was its overture, the last movement of Rachel Laurin’s Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani from 2011, which set featured Julie Vidrick Evans, Chevy’s Music Director. Chase Presbyterian, as soloist.
This movement overflows with rhythmic energy and uses comfortable harmonies; the vibe is reminiscent of Michael Torke, but Laurin has some big, juicy tunes in this finale, plus a quick and delicious fugato. (The first two movements of the concerto, not heard on Sundays, contain more severe passages; in general it makes a convincing whole.)
Evans knows what stops to tug on her home organ, and she nailed the beats and made her part sound great. The strings matched his energy, albeit with a certain lack of tone refinement. Still, a movement worth hearing, even if it has no place in this program.