Monday 23rd April

Review - Beca Artist Series: Shlomo Mintz

Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd

First published on The Press on 9th April 2018

Shlomo Mintz (violin and conductor) with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
Charles Luney Auditorium, April 7.

Taking on the role of both conductor and soloist helped Shlomo Mintz bring an intimacy to Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor that favoured the lyrical qualities of the work.

The reduced forces (which were augmented for the second-half) also made for a quasi-chamber experience and I enjoyed it for this and many other reasons, not least the Andante. This was a thing of beauty, silky smooth and utterly relaxed, with the central double-stopping passage as unflustered as the initial melody. The first movement gradually built towards the emotional highpoint of the cadenza, the mood-changing and Mintz exerting a forceful authority. Mintz's almost Zen-like calm served him well throughout the concerto and, while I felt the tempi were slightly on the slow side, the emphasis on substance over flashiness was satisfying. The audience also clearly loved what he brought to this performance.  

The absence of a designated conductor necessitates the orchestra watching and listening closely to every little nuance, nod or dip to best gauge the soloist's interpretive ideas. The orchestra did well in supporting Mintz with only a few hesitant spots where a conductor would have come in handy, for example the start of the third movement where soloist and woodwind took a little time to bond in the new tempo. But overall it worked.

In his role as a conductor, I found Mintz less convincing. Watching him, I could not shake the image of the stereotypical hawk-like conductors portrayed in Hoffnung cartoons and I found his somewhat unconventional conducting style distracting and difficult to follow. I could overlook this if his account of Brahms' Symphony no.3 in F Major had not bordered on the ponderous. The more leisurely tempi did not work so well in this context and the two outer movements required more urgency and drive. The Poco Allegretto was nicely done, though, and the horn solo from Ian Wildsmith was spot on. Special mention also to David McGregor on first clarinet for shining in his prominent role throughout the symphony.