Concertmaster Kerr shines brightly in Prokofiev with DSO
Dallas Symphony concertmaster Alexander Kerr wove a magic spell Thursday night from the moment his bow first touched the strings as soloist for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
This particular concerto, with its slight-of-hand virtuosity and tendency toward the violin’s upper register, proved an ideal vehicle for Kerr, with his bright, high-vibrato tone and obvious technical prowess. Indeed, in terms of understanding and communicating this uniquely beautiful work, Kerr proved himself the equal of any guest violinist soloist of recent seasons.
Written during one of the darkest moments in the composer’s life, as he watched Russia fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1917, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 belies the circumstances of its creation with a dreamy quality not unlike that of his ballet score Cinderella (also, interestingly, produced under catastrophic circumstances).
Ably supported by the orchestra and music director Jaap van Zweden, Kerr built and maintained this fairy-tale aura throughout the first movement, managing to provide a sense of firmness even as he constructed Prokofiev’s musical castles in the air, right through the movement’s ecstatic, other-worldly coda. He maintained the brilliant tone quality (and technical perfection) in the second movement, which continues the ethereal narrative in the form of a perpetual motion study for the soloist. In the finale, he spun out the aria-like melody over the static, flowing orchestra part; here, van Zweden, Kerr, and orchestra rolled with breathtaking momentum as, in a typical Prokofievan gesture, the quintessentially romantic melody unfolded over pungent early modern polytonality toward the final, trill-rich coda.
For an encore, Kerr joined co-concertmaster Nathan Olson for a contrasting bit of Prokofiev, the second movement of the Sonata for Two Violin. The two delivered this quick, explosive showpiece with an almost violently muscular tone, worlds away from the delicacies that dominate the preceding concerto.
The concert was relatively short, and focused on standard repertoire. While a contrasting (and more adventurous) prologue would have created an even richer musical experience, the pairing of Brahms’ Second Symphony with Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto ultimately produced a compact and satisfying view of two masterpieces by two geniuses.
The orchestra’s amazing horn section turned loose the full power of its gorgeous, burnished tone quality in the short opening phrase, and van Zweden continued with an extravagant, generally high-volume approach throughout the work’s four movements. Although van Zweden might be accused of expending too much power and volume in the first movement, he successfully carried that passion into a precisely delineated Adagio; in the Allegretto grazioso, he compellingly played up the contrast of the delicate outer sections with the energetic middle section. The beautifully rich second theme of the finale pushed irresistibly toward the final triumphal conclusion of this symphonic journey.