Timothy Chooi
January 16, 2017
Review with the Southwest Florida Symphony
Jan Holly

The stars aligned Thursday, Jan. 12, for the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the season at Schein Hall. The stars were the dazzling young Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi, the graceful pianist and harpsichordist Alexandra Carlson, and the orchestra’s elegant music director Maestro Nir Kabaretti.
These three unparalleled artists were surrounded by a constellation of brilliant string players, members of the ensemble’s “Small Stage Symphonies” touring group. But the brightest star in this firmament was Chooi’s violin, the Windsor-Weinstein Stradivari, made in 1717, during the legendary luthier’s golden period.
Chooi, who has performed on the Strad for several years, confessed that adjusting to the instrument was a challenge, because its sonorous qualities are so complex. “Understanding it took some time,” he said, “but it has a bright and immediate sound, and I love its edginess. It has a wonderful crunch to it.”
The program featured two distinctive perspectives on the four seasons of the year—Vivaldi’s well-known version and Astor Piazzolla’s contemporary take on the subject, “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” Uniquely, Maestro Kabaretti and his orchestra performed the two sets season-by-season, rather than as separate compositions.
Kabaretti also inserted into the proceedings two smaller-scale works, Beethoven’s famous “Spring” Sonata for Violin and Piano, and “October: Autumn Song” from Tchaikovsky’s collection of short character pieces, “The Seasons,” for piano solo.” These two pieces gave the audience an up-close-and-personal look at the spectacular artistry of Carlson and Chooi.
Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”, familiar to almost every listener of classical music, is more complex than it sounds. For the soloist, as Chooi admits, it is “extremely difficult. The violin almost never stops playing,” he said. “I have to maintain the piece’s high energy for a solid 45 minutes, and the ornamental figurations are never-ending.”
Emphasizing Vivaldi’s wildness, Chooi danced through his performance of the piece, slicing athletically at the strings with buoyant bow and mercurial finger-work. His acrobatic performance left his listeners awash in sumptuous sonorities.
Kabaretti led his players less by directive than by invitation. Conducting just under the radar, he liberated his musicians to engage in a freewheeling performance, allowing the music to breathe and flow.
“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” arranged for piano and string orchestra, honors an essential component of Piazzolla’s Argentinian heritage—the tango in its many guises. Not a true concerto, the piece embeds the piano deeply into the orchestral texture.
Kabaretti hears in this work the subtle and ever-changing moods evoked by the seasons. “I hope that the audience will feel the piece as I do. Being moved by music doesn’t require musical experience,” he said. “You can feel the expression and be transformed. If this takes place, I am happy.”
Kabaretti’s reading of the work was, by turns, jazzy, percussively primal, sultry and melancholic. The players gloried in its gritty special effects and incessantly repeated ostinatos. Carlson, in true command of the keyboard, gave a vibrant performance, underscored by a flawless technique.
Erik Entwistle, a popular Island pianist in attendance at the concert, especially loved the program’s design. “Switching back and forth between Vivaldi and Piazzolla worked really well, even though it must have been challenging for the players. The soloists were mesmerizing, and the first chairs had a chance to shine, too."
Attendee Daniela Jaeger’s praise for the concert was lavish. “The music goes into your body like a shock,” she said. “I love living in an area that is so supportive of music. Starting the New Year here in our Island paradise and getting a world-class orchestra concert—twenty-two musicians crowned with two brilliant soloists and a diamond conductor. What could be better!”
Islanders can hear the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra’s next “Small Stage Symphony” concert 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 10, at the Community Church, 1740 Periwinkle Way. The concert, including music by Bach, Mendelssohn and Vivaldi, features the FGCU Chamber Chorus and guest conductor Trent Brown. Tickets are $30.

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