The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: A recital and a concerto show young violinist Caroline Goulding is a star in the making we should watch and listen to.

November 10, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

We in Madison have just had a pair of intriguing chances to encounter a young artist who bodes well to become a major star in the musical heavens.

With all its lively activity and institutionalized concert life, Madison draws an endless stream of guest performers. Many are musicians of established fame, while others are relative newcomers. The youth and limited name-recognition of the latter mean, of course, that their fees are comparatively less budget-busting, but also mean that audience interest will likely be less automatic and robust.

For the recital by violinist Caroline Goulding (below) in the Wisconsin Union Theater‘s concert series last Thursday (Nov. 3), more than half the seats, by my estimate, were empty. For her appearance with the UW Chamber Orchestra in the same venue two evening later (Saturday, Nov. 5), the audience was stronger, with notable numbers of students and young people.

There was undeniable competition by other events in another busy musical weekend, but those who did not attend these concerts out of indifference to an unfamiliar name missed exciting and stimulating experiences.

Only 19, and still completing her education, Goulding is already an experienced recitalist and concerto performer. At the same time, there are still little traces of adolescent awkwardness in her bearing, ones that are quite charming.

In the recital, for instance, she and her pianist did not walk offstage between items, to milk applause: they simply stayed on the stage to ready for the next piece.

That pianist also deserves mention. Only slightly older than Goulding, Dina Vainshtein (below) is a formidable virtuoso in her own right. No mere “accompanist,” she was truly a partner in music that required equality of talents.

The partnership between the two carries, moreover, a sharing of veritably “dynastic” connections. They have been students at the New England Conservatory of Music, respectively of violinist Donald and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, who also happen to be the parents of the cellist sensation Alisa Weilerstein.

For the recital program, Goulding and Vainshtein set themselves a daunting range of stylistic prospects to begin with. In the mix was a gentle bit of soufflé, a Romance by Gabriel Fauré, plus a richer sundae, a waltzy piano Caprice by Saint-Säens, with virtuosic whipped cream added by violin transcriber Eugène Ysaye.

More serious business was involved in the opening  Sonata for Piano and Violin [sic] in G, K. 301, by Mozart (below). Goulding delivered a smooth and appealing performance, but her playing carefully from score instead of from memory confirmed the feeling that she still is working her way into full comfort with a classical style.

But then came  Sonata No. 1 in A minor by Robert Schumann (below), an impassioned and striving work. It is demanding technically, but also emotionally. Goulding dug into the intensities of the framing movements with a degree of feeling and power striking for her age, while she made the introspective middle movement a thing of truly touching beauty. In this music, Goulding demonstrated genuinely advanced maturity.

But surely the greatest challenge technically was the Sonata No. 3 in A minor by the great Roumanian violinist and composer George Enescu (below). An extended three-movement work, not of particular musical depth, it was one of his tributes to his homeland, in the line of his once popular “Roumanian Rhapsodies” for orchestra.

Bearing the subtitle of “in the popular Roumanian style,” it is full of melodic turns, modal harmonies and intense rhythms of his homeland’s folk traditions. It is also a simply astounding gamut of technical effects that came naturally to Enescu as one of the greatest violin virtuosos in his time.

That Goulding and Vainshtein could bring it off with unflagging spirit as well as breathtaking precision was an accomplishment in itself. If nothing else, this recital showed that Goulding is already a fully formed player with truly formidable technique.

But what about her broader artistic sensitivity? That could be assessed in her concerto appearance. The UW School of Music’s program of collaboration with the Union Theater allows participation of visiting artists with the school’s student program, and thanks to that Goulding could appear as concert soloist with the UW Chamber Orchestra (below).

Conductor James Smith (below) is a master at drawing student players to rise even beyond their best, and he did that in the full scope of this concert’s program.

In the opening piece, the prickly Sinfonietta, Op. 1, by the young Benjamin Britten, Smith guided the players carefully through its tight scoring, with augmented strings. Indeed, the string-ensemble playing was a little strained, but the winds in particular came through the interconnected three movements with virtually professional aplomb.

And, for the final work, Smith led a pungent rendition of Beethoven’s robust post-Haydnesque Second Symphony, with just balances restored to the winds.

But in dead center came the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, as Goulding’s vehicle. Though already having some background in performing with orchestras, Goulding must surely have welcomed this opportunity to work with a student ensemble, so as to hone her command of one of the most familiar of standbys in the concerto repertoire.

Her performance suggested that she still needs such opportunities. Though never lacking command of her part, she seemed to make a slightly shaky beginning, with some small hints of intonational impurities early on. There seemed to be some little initial difficulties in orchestral coordination.

Her assurance grew as she progressed, with some beautiful sounds in the first movement. But her treatment of its fearsome cadenza was overly studied in slice-and-dice attention to virtuosic display.

In the remaining movements, the assurance progressed still further. In all, however, the impression given was of a need to develop fuller sympathy with this Romantic idiom and a confidence to stand forth from the orchestra with consistent distinctiveness.

All in all, at age 19 the Grammy-nominated Goulding is already formed as a performer with enormous technique, beautiful tone and a good start on stylistic versatility. Here is grand artistic promise. She began studying the violin at age 3-1/2, and her development from child prodigy into star-quality potential is now clear.

Will she follow the pattern set by Midori and Hilary Hahn and fulfill that potential? Time will tell, and the prospects are strong.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Wisconsin Union Theater and the UW School of Music, Madison music lovers have had the chance to observe the beginnings of what could become one of the important musical careers of the immediate future.

As that career unfolds, we will be able to reflect that we were there at her first blossoming. And maybe that is also part of the fun of being, on a national scale, in the “provinces.”

Posted in Classical music

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