A post-heroic violin, supported in kind
Kremer takes classics in new directions
It’s been said that the past is another country. Gidon Kremer certainly plays it that way.
This violinist often treats works from the standard repertoire as found objects, distant curiosities to be examined with great fascination, perhaps even to be disassembled and rebuilt in live performance.
Well-known music can sometimes sound intriguingly strange in Kremer’s hands. It’s as if that old familiar monument in the town center, the one you’ve driven past a thousand times, is suddenly being shown to you through the window of a building you never knew existed. But his playing also carries an electric charge precisely because the ear is almost always being led somewhere unexpected.
At Kremer’s Friday night Celebrity Series performance in Jordan Hall, distance from the familiar often led to a kind of reenchantment. Certainly that was the case in the transcription of Schumann’s Cello Concerto he performed in the first half, and in a humble Schubert minuet (D. 89) in the second. Soloists often pose as conquering heroes eager to show their domination of a work, but these readings were post-heroic or even anti-heroic, offering an image of the soloist not as stentorian victor but as soft-spoken guide, dispensing discoveries one at a time. The playing in the Schubert in particular was extremely eloquent, the solo line lofted into the hall with fast bow speed and a striking lightness of contact. I know of no violinist who deploys the “flautando,’’ or flute-like, floated tone, so artfully.
Both works were accompanied by Kremerata Baltica, an ensemble of young musicians from the Baltic States that Kremer founded in 1997. They too play with great sensitivity as evidenced by Friday’s robust and tightly cohesive account of Bartok’s “Divertimento,’’ its slow movement full of finely blended colors, deep tones, and subtle half-tints. The group’s finesse also helped bring across a transfixing performance of Arvo Pärt’s “Passacaglia,’’ a work written expressly for Kremer and the ensemble, with a jagged yet gleaming solo line that plays off of the ensemble’s steady tread.
The program’s second half also included Raminta Serksnyte’s “DeProfundis’’ for string orchestra, a work whose intriguing ideas needed more concise treatment, and Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer’s “After Glenn Gould,’’ which juxtaposed extended quotations of Bach with angular and darkly dissonant writing. The formal program ended with a pair of short works by Astor Piazzolla, the master of nuevo tango whose music Kremer began championing in the late 1990s.
Many other classical musicians were discovering Piazzolla at around the time, yet Kremer’s Piazzolla sounds like no one else’s in its blend of Argentine heat and remote Baltic cool, in the way Kremer at once distills and abstracts the music’s deep strain of melancholy.
In the encores Kremer gave the last word — or words, many of them — to his ensemble by way of Ernst Toch’s “Geographical Fugue,’’ a work for so-called spoken chorus here re-tooled as an amusing send-up of the classical music industry, and clearly embraced by these serious young players as a chance to put their instruments aside and cut loose.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at email@example.com.