At Friday night’s concert in Taipei’s National Concert Hall the Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid showed his understanding of the less-than-bravura role required of the soloist by Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto of 1862.
Most 19th-century Romantic-era concertos provided occasions when a soloist, deemed to represent some passionate force, lined up against an orchestra seen as standing for altogether more ordinary things. The preferred solo instrument was always the piano or the violin — cellos, clarinets and flutes weren’t considered capable of anything like such heroic possibilities, though Dvorak was to change that with what he came up with for the cello.
Wieniawski’s work isn’t shaped in this mould at all, though. The Polish virtuoso only wanted to pen something to display his own performing talents, as Mozart had done before him, and his best-known concerto isn’t an old warhorse like Beethoven’s or Tchaikovsky’s, but something more delicate, albeit intricate as well. It even could be argued to be better suited to listening to on headphones while working at the computer than heard in a large modern concert hall.
Schmid embodied this dedicated but unheroic role to perfection, and his solo encore was listened to with quiet attentiveness by the National Symphony Orchestra’s talented instrumentalists.
Mendelssohn is the Robert Louis Stevenson of classical music, though without ever having imagined a Mr Hyde. His symphonies, too, are “light,” and his Scottish Symphony that followed required no great change of gear. He was the well-mannered perfectionist. He wrote oratorios — religious declamations in key with mid 19th-century bourgeois sentiment — but no great shakes for most listeners these days. They could never do anything like predict or explain, let alone console for (but what could?) something like the looming First World War.
And the case against Mendelssohn can sometimes feel overwhelming. His works have tunes — but so what? They don’t combine towards some overwhelming question, as Beethoven’s insistently aspire to do. In place of weight he offers grace, and Friday’s rendering under Adrian Leaper didn’t so much stop the soul as entertain the wistful imagination (as Mendelssohn’s contemporaries would have put it).
Leaper actually proved a good guide here — if you watched him you saw a little into the interior of this elusive music, undemonstrative music. It isn’t the stuff that allows conductors to display flamboyant charisma, but it repays their care and attention, and this Leaper certainly gave it.
With most of his village preferring to converse in Mandarin, opportunities are scant for 81-year-old Kacaw to use his mother language of Amis. But things are changing in his household — one day the family was having an animated discussion when his plucky four-year-old granddaughter Nikal bursts into the room: “You should talk in the mother tongue,” she tells them loudly in Amis. Another time, Nikal’s uncle Yosifu, a well-known artist, overheard her arguing with her grandmother over rights to the television remote — “in our mother tongue,” he tells me excitedly. “With such visible change, I can see hope
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