In a suit that seemed to large, in front of an orchestra whose technique
is too small, Joseph Lin stood poised before the opening notes of the
Brahms Violin Concerto. Mr. Lin, just freshly graduated from Harvard,
was preparing for one of the most difficult tasks that can fall to a
soloist - me must play a difficutl and well knwon work, with an
accompanying orchestra which is not up to the task, and whose lapses in
intonation and ensemble - entirely forgiveable ina community orchestra -
will tax his own ability to concieve and remember the work.
Mr. Lin was playing with a small community orchestra, one whose victory
was in undertaking the task itself, and aquitting itself as well as it
did. This small orchestra, packed into a community hall, had good and
indifferent players, but must b congratulated ont heir love of music, and
the devotion it takes to be a full time something else, and still enter
into performing a work which is deep with difficulties and symphonic
Mr. Lin's playing is very tightly strung, it is in his fingers, his arm.
Normally this is a ciriticism, but in Mr. Lin it is part of his conception
of playing. His fingering has light sweetness, more thand sweetness -
it is dolce - silky sweet without cloying - his bowing a sharpness. But
the two combined to have him almost shred his bow before even the first
movement was over, whisps of horse hair attesting to the very high angle -
and thus pure tone, that he prefers.
The Brahms is not usually the piece one would associate with such an
approach, a work that vies with Tchaikovski for the title of most richly
played, and over played, of the late 19th century concerto repertory for
the instrument. However, what made it work was Mr. Lin's conception of
the piece as being akin to Chopin in its search for rubato of the soloist.
This is hard to explain how he found it, given that the beat provided was
not the rock steady bass that such an approach assumes. Instead, he played
before another, better orchestra, and hoped that the audience would follow
him, and be able to envision, as he clearly could, this better sound.
It was found, for example, in his choice of how to take the low note
in figuration. He consistently took this note as with the up bow, and
consistently chose to soften it, and imperceptibly lengthen it, making the
phrases always seem rising in force and intensity, without the top note
having that painfully shapr "squeak". In fact his entire dynamic approach
was subdued, and like the tonal intonations of Japanese - it was the
suggestion rather than the actuality that stood out. Again, in someone
else this might have been a complaint, but that is because in others there
would not have been a consistent conception of time as being coupled with
softness, instead of holding the loudest note, he sustained the softest
While there are many who are Norrington detractors here there and
everywhere - the restraint of vibrato, attack, the long legato phrasing
all say that the young violinist, and the lion conductor of the period
movement, have much in common with their ideas of a composer who saw
himself as the last classicist. A pairing with the London Classical
Players would worth crossing an ocean for.
As for the rest of his technical apparatus, an assortment of critics on
three continents have heaped adjectives upon him. It is so rare to find
a musican who deserves unqualified praise in his technique that critics
have a tendency to make up for every ill word spoken. But "mastery" and
"flawless" are words which, despite being high praise, rob the musician of
his individuality, his signature. Mr. Lin's is restraint, while he is
very tautly strung as a musician, this tautness never breaks the fluidity
of the playng, but instead drives it.
Mr. Lin will be playing a chamber recital of Stravinski, Bach, Beethoven,
Bassini and Coleman's new Sonata #3 in Wild Hall in New York on Wednesday
and at the Longy School on the 21st of April.
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