BRUNSWICK – Young violinist Ray Chen, one of the new class of virtuosi at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, drove a stake through the heart of a brilliant performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major (Op. 77) at Crooker Theater on Friday by choosing to play an encore.

Chen may be too young to know better, but I felt sorry for festival co-founder Lewis Kaplan, who conducted orchestra and soloist in one of the outstanding performances in the festival’s history.

There are all kinds of reasons not to play an encore after any concerto, but after the Brahms, one of the towering masterpieces of Western civilization, it is little short of sacrilege. The work is a unity. It should send the audience home with a feeling of awe, perhaps a little euphoria, and fond memories.

To puncture that mood with anything gratuitous — like the Bach andante for unaccompanied violin that Chen played — no matter how good, calls into question the musicality and even the integrity of the performer. Does he consider Brahms merely a vehicle to show off?

Chen is better than that. He seemed to have a feeling for the music and its intimate orchestration, blending the timbre of the violin with the French horns in a way I had not heard before.

His double-stop work sounded like two equally angelic voices, his tone was the acme of purity and his dynamics were the way Brahms wrote them. After the final cadenza, he should have quit while he was ahead.

It may be objected that the first work on the program, the Beethoven String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 (“Rasoumovsky”), included what might be considered an encore by the Ying Quartet. It was not an encore at all but a recapitulation of (part of) the exciting final movement, actually reinforcing the impression of the whole.

The Ying, which is becoming one of the world’s premiere ensembles, took the final allegro molto at breakneck speed, while retaining its musical quality.

The second go-round was appropriate for the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann, who once indicated on one of his manuscripts: “as fast as possible,” and later on “still faster.”

The recapitulation was not as fine as the first reading. The tempo was pushed too much, like a speed reading of Chopin’s “Minute” waltz, even though the phrasing and articulation never broke down.

Some aspects, however, such as the timing of the rests in the statement and response passages, were even better.


Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: [email protected]