Orchestral Music Review Print

Violin Pyrotechnics: Min's Auspicious Winston-Salem Symphony Debut

October 27, 2002 - Winston-Salem, NC:

The omission of the Intermezzo from the Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21, of Edouard Lalo was the only fault in nineteen-year-old virtuoso Min Lee's performance October 27 in the Stevens Center with the Winston-Salem Symphony under Music Director Peter Perret. Except for fleeting moments in the first movement, where the brass swamped the orchestra strings, the instrumental sections were well balanced and rhythmically alert. Min had rich, full tone and flawless intonation with no want of skill in either bowing or fingering technique. Both soloist and orchestra brought a commendable sense of dash and fire to this wonderful exploration of Spanish musical color and dance by a Frenchman. The first and last movements featured the languorous malagueña rhythm, and the lively second movement was dominated by the sequidilla . Min brought out the melancholy of the solo in the third movement completely. The orchestra fully realized the almost diaphanous delicacy of the last movement, and Min brought the house down with her light staccato arpeggios and high trills. She was even more astounding with the complex multiple stops in her brief encore, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst's arrangement of "The Last Rose of Summer."

In introducing Min Lee, Perret explained that his much younger brother, a luthier and seller of old instruments, often serves as his "spy" and alerts him to outstanding artists whose careers are about to take off. Min was discovered when she came to the shop and chose a 1704 Guarnerius ( filius Andreas ), which was given to her by her native Singapore. She has won a number of awards and has raised three million dollars for charitable organizations. Sales were brisk for her first recording, on the English Universal label; Wieniawski's two violin concertos are coupled with the same composer's "Faust Fantasy," with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by former N.C. Symphony music director candidate Thomas Sanderling. The $15 charge was a welcome change from the typical overpricing of CDs by too many visiting soloists.

Perret opened the concert with a short rarity, Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek's Overture to the opera Donna Diana . Its claim to fame was its use as the theme of the old radio and TV series, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon . Though I vaguely recollect the series, I had no musical memory of the amazingly busy and fast score that kept every section of the orchestra engaged in almost every bar.

A beautifully judged performance of Schubert's Symphony No. 9, in C, ended the concert. Perret chose perfect tempos and elicited naturally expressive phrasing. Every section of the orchestra glowed, from the splendid horns (the principal's solo set the tone) to the deep, rich string sound. The trombones were excellent in this work, in which the composer explored their use for color. The woodwinds were superb, with prominent solo roles by oboist John Ellis and clarinetist Nathan Williams. Throughout, the rhythms were wonderfully sprung, and the whole symphony moved forward with a steady pulse.

The Sunday matinee audience seemed barely to fill half of Stevens Center, yet after the usual welcome and acknowledgment of sponsors, Executive Director Merritt Vale said that because of increased attendance, there was a shortage of program booklets. The notes, by David Levy, Chair of the Department of Music at Wake Forest University, were excellent. There seems to be no flaw in Perret's programming (his line-ups have been more imaginative than some Triangle season presenters) or in his interpretations and the orchestra's execution. His selection of rising young artists has been outstanding and remains worthy of imitation by other music directors.