Rising violinist Goosby brings fresh charm to Mendelssohn with Elgin Symphony

Sun Feb 06, 2022 at 11:00 am

By Tim Sawyier

Randall Goosby performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra Saturday night.

Rising violin star Randall Goosby has a bright future ahead of him. The Sphinx laureate and Juilliard graduate is beginning to make the rounds of increasingly major U.S. orchestras, and his performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra at the Hemmens Cultural Center on Saturday night made a memorable impression.

Goosby drew listeners’ ears with his haunting statement of Mendelssohn’s opening theme, and the first movement’s central cadenza was pristine while maintaining an improvisatory feel. He floated the seemingly endless melodies of the Andante with poise, and brought immaculate articulation plus ample charm to the closing Allegro molto vivace. Guest conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl, new music director of the Omaha Symphony, was a stiff presence on the podium here, but oversaw an unobtrusive accompaniment.

Goosby draws a lithe, silvery tone from his 1735 Guarneri, but frequently one could want more timbral variation from the young man. As an encore he performed Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Louisiana Blues Strut, saying from the stage he was going “very far from Mendelssohn” with this choice. While he captured the evocative miniature’s swaggering sleaze, his tone and approach felt almost identical to that in the concerto, despite the substantial stylistic contrast. Perhaps a wider color palette will emerge as he continues with Artist Diploma studies at Juilliard.

The Mendelssohn was preceded by Starburst, a three-minute curtain-raiser for strings by current CSO composer-in-residence Jessie Montgomery. Like Goosby, Montgomery is herself a Sphinx alum, and Starburst was written for the organization’s Sphinx Virtuosi. The work is ecstatic and rhythmically driving, with some contrasting lyrical moments, and served its show-opening purposes well.

The second half was devoted to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” and was on the whole a commendable outing from the Elgin players. Bahl apparently felt less constrained in Beethoven’s sprawling canvas, and if Saturday’s performance did not change one’s conception of the work, it was certainly a serviceable account of it.

Bahl had some ground to make up after creating a fiasco in the famous opening chords, conducting in a nervous three that resulted in a scatterplot of entrances. The Allegro con brio did find its footing after this though, with Bahl eliciting solid contrast and fitting angularity where called for. He charted a thoughtful course through the Marcia funebre, adorned with stylish solos from guest principal oboe Anne Bach, and mined moments of genuine anguish near the movement’s end.

There appeared to be an internecine war at times with concertmaster Isabella Lippi often playing emphatically ahead of and louder than her colleagues. Perhaps this was an effort to motivate stronger direction than Bahl provided, when she felt it necessary. Still, it wasn’t apparent that the fine Elgin violinists needed such insistent, didactic leadership, and at many moments in the Beethoven it was clear no one was benefiting from it.

The Scherzo of the Beethoven was anxious and muddled, the kind of imprecise blur that results when musicians cannot find common ground. While the horn section made a fine showing in the trio, the violins especially could not coalesce around Bahl, Lippi or each other. 

The Finale fitfully had similar issues, with faster sections flirting with coming apart, though Bahl effectively brought out the reflective quality of the inward slower variations near the score’s end, again with elevated solos from oboist Bach.

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin. elginsymphony.org

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One Response to “Rising violinist Goosby brings fresh charm to Mendelssohn with Elgin Symphony”

  1. Posted Feb 07, 2022 at 8:10 am by Argyle

    Aside from the impressive young Russian woman who is currently the assistant conductor at the Boston Symphony — and who could well be ultimately unavailable due to international commitments — the slate of finalists to be the next Music Director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra has become an embarrassing parade of mediocrities. The fact that most of these folks have been flown in from faraway places to collect professional fees, in order to prove that they are simply not ready to give public interpretations of major symphonic repertoire with a fine regional orchestra, only adds to the irony.

    The ESO, once the obvious powerhouse among the suburban professional orchestras, from its concertmasters on down, is still an accomplished, disciplined ensemble. All they lack is one thing — inspiration. This is but the latest example of a greater Chicagoland orchestra search-committee getting way ahead of its skis, and for the sake of their own future they need to either start flying in some more accomplished individuals, or else take the other tack and look at some serious, relatively inexpensive locally based conductors who have proven track records of community commitment and artistic success.

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