There is something beguiling about Midori, and for me, initially at least, it’s that she uses only one name. Like Madonna, or Sting. No amount of googling reveals why this is so, but it all helps to perpetuate an image stemming from when she was the diminutive child prodigy. Now in her 40s Midori Goto, born in Osaka but raised and promoted in America has an enduring reputation as evidenced by the warmth radiating from her fans. Monday’s Great Performers concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre proved why we shouldn’t write off child prodigies as mere technical savants.
Her partnership with Turkish pianist Özgür Aydin took a few minutes to warm up, however once done, they sat beautifully and vertically together. This themed concert “A Night in Vienna” opened with the Valse-caprice No.6 from Liszt’s Soirées de Vienne, a work originally for piano alone but here tastefully transcribed. It was not quite light-hearted, but we were invited into the fray by skipping figures from the piano. In retrospect the inclusion of this work seemed redundant given the length and overall breadth of the concert, but nevertheless the light-footed portamenti (slides on a string) were fabulously evocative and worked well within the precise ensemble.
Schoenberg’s Phantasy for Violin with piano accompaniment, Op.47. proved that Midori is a serious artist, and one with such experience and conviction that such sudden and severe genre shifts are all in a day’s work. From a Viennese waltz to the intensity of 12-tone Serialism, Midori’s deep and unapologetic tone and power coupled with Aydin’s virtuosity were turned up a generous notch. The resulting powerhouse playing was a highlight, and especially for this listener, Aydin’s high-register pointillistic icicles and the world-class ensemble.
Midori’s Brahms G major Sonata too was evocative of the Austrian summer time countryside, and enthused applause after the 1st movement Vivace ma non troppo was no doubt inspired by an unfathomably rich communion between music and musicians. That the audience was warm is an understatement. Midori’s deft use of tone colour painted question and answer phrases, thankfully without sinking into all-too-common sentimentality. Each player weighed the gravity of each moment and refrained too from a macho belting out of parts. The second movement Adagio double-stop passage from Midori was alone worth the ticket, and as a string player I was awed by her elucidation of two voices with one bow.
Programming the celebratory Mozart B flat Sonata after interval was inspired, as was the pairing with Schubert’s late work, the Fantasie for Piano and Violin, D.934. A pity that the coughing in such a live acoustic was so pronounced, but what can you do in the middle of winter? Midori’s playing was taut and sinewy in the Mozart, and a remarkable foil to the fluency of Aydin’s chromatic scale work. As was the case throughout the concert, the ensemble was wholly superb, particularly in some “Magic Flute” moments in the Mozart where a call and response dialogue between the performers was a real joy.
As to the Schubert, I’m sure this was not every listener’s cup of tea. Kudos to Midori and Aydin for bringing this work to the Melbourne stage. The performance craft and virtuosity of both performers was revelatory, notably as Midori relished the fleet-footed virtuosic passages, with some daring rubato and a sense of charm that is so difficult to pull off.