We lovers of concert music in Spokane are much indebted to the generosity of individual benefactors and foundations. Thanks to gifts from the Johnston-Fix and Mary Jewett Gaiser foundations, weekend audiences at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox were treated for the second time to the playing of Vadim Gluzman, one of the most accomplished and admired violinists of his generation. He was joined by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Eckart Preu, in P.I. Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Op. 35.
In 2010, Gluzman’s playing moved reviewer Travis Rivers to compare him with some of the greatest violinists of the past: Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein and Mischa Elman. As a precious link to that tradition, Gluzman plays the 1690 Stradivarius that once belonged to Leopold Auer, the teacher of Heifetz, Milstein and Elman, and also Tchaikovsky’s first choice to premiere his violin concerto. Auer declined that honor, perhaps, Gluzman believes, because he was unwilling to master its fearsome technical difficulties. On Saturday, those difficulties were butter to Gluzman’s warm knife, serving only to display his impeccable phrasing and a left hand that seems always to find the exact center of a note.
Gluzman’s command of the instrument is so absolute that he is inclined to take very fast tempos, which do not always allow the variety of tonal color and shading of which he is capable. As an encore, he performed the Gavotte from J.S. Bach’s Third Partita for Solo Violin, in which one heard a richly nuanced command of tone that was not always evident in the concerto.
After these virtuoso thrills, the final work on the program, the Symphony No. 7 in E major of Anton Bruckner, opened the door to a more profound order of experience, in which Preu delivered an interpretation worthy of comparison with the greatest on record. Just as Gluzman embodies a rich tradition of musical performance, so Preu represents a tradition of Austrian-German conducting including such names as Eugen Jochum, Carl Schuricht, Gunter Wand, Karl Bohm and Wilhelm Furtwangler, all of whom placed the symphonies of Bruckner among their lives’ loftiest goals.
Unlike other great symphonists, Bruckner does not seek to tell a story but rather to impart a vision, not of the brotherhood of man or the struggles of an artist, but of the glory and goodness of God.
In interpreting Bruckner, a conductor must combine exquisite attention to detail with unflagging patience in order to create the illusion that the piece is creating itself, like the patterns of light on a tranquil lake, or the eruption of a volcano, all as experienced by one who believes them to be the work of a loving creator. In this triumphant achievement, Preu could not have found a finer instrument than the Spokane Symphony, whose playing was magnificent. In particular, in its beauty, variety and intensity, the playing of the violins was simply beyond praise.
Those of us who were willing to walk through the door that Preu opened for us left the theater different than when we entered.