Patricia Kopatchinskaja is back in the Twin Cities, and that means something unusual will happen.
The mold-breaking Moldovan violinist won a Grammy this year for her bold “Death and the Maiden” project with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. And her provocative performance with the SPCO in Stillwater on Thursday evening showed she is in no mood to dial it back.
If anything, Kopatchinskaja’s penchant for shock and awe has sharpened since her last SPCO visit in October. Thursday’s performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, which she led as concertmaster, was a case in point.
More a psychological deconstruction than an interpretation, Kopatchinskaja took startling liberties with the piece. Loud and soft passages were violently contrasted with sudden, lurching alterations of tempo that might have made Mozart choke.
It just about worked. What emerged was a demonic view of Mozart — think “Don Giovanni” with an extra shot of adrenaline — that fired with creativity but teetered on the brink of desperation. The effect occasionally verged on the brutal. But it was also devilishly, rivetingly exciting.
Same went for Thursday’s performance of the slow movement from Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet, the piece that anchored the SPCO’s recent Grammy-winning album.
Kopatchinskaja’s view of the movement — she introduced it with a keening rendition of the song on which it is based — seemed even more exploratory than on the recording. Probing, swaying, twisting sideways toward her fellow players, Kopatchinskaja coaxed extreme subtleties of expression from the music. One moment it was bracing and immediate, the next it had the evanescence of a dream.
Jolting shifts of perspective were also a keynote of Hartmann’s Concerto “funebre” for Violin and String Orchestra, with Kopatchinskaja as soloist. Written in the early months of World War II, the concerto agonizes over the conflict, wrenching from interludes of wounded introspection to eruptions of panic and rage.
This is meat and drink to an artist of Kopatchinskaja’s mercurial temperament. Her playing of the numbed yet strangely beautiful “slow march” at the conclusion froze time in its tracks, demanding sober reflection.
The evening opened to the grave tones of Contrapunctus XIV, the final, unfinished movement from J.S. Bach’s career-defining opus “The Art of Fugue.” This is often thought to be cerebral music, but with Kopatchinskaja leading the SPCO’s string section it took on a lissome, almost sensual quality. Wafts of delicately textured sound were conjured in the clear acoustics of Stillwater’s Trinity Lutheran Church, spiked at one point by a pizzicato interjection on violins, sounding mandolin-like for a moment.
Two short, enigmatic works by György Kurtág appeared in each half of the program. One involved Kopatchinskaja singing in waiflike, quivery fashion. In the other she played an upright piano.
Is there no end to her musical versatility? One thing is certain: If you catch Kopatchinskaja in concert, she will rattle your musical cage more than a little, and make you gaze in wonder at what lies beyond.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.