It’s hard to imagine Juilliard-trained Georgia native Robert McDuffie tackling Brahms and other heavyweights, even though he has the technique (if not quite the brawn) for that corner of the concerto and chamber repertoire. His musical disposition is more congenial to the lyrical, swooning sides of Mozart and Mendelssohn, not to mention the superior schmaltz of Johann Strauss. A model of his is the now underappreciated Viennese violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler, who believed that music should be the most direct exponent of human emotions. (McDuffie has in fact recorded a medley of Kreisler’s tunes for Telarc.) Like Kreisler, McDuffie can be elegant and sentimental, but never exhibitionistic; his playing is distinguished by a sense of proportion and propriety and a rhythmic vitality that sometimes enhances even a mediocre piece of music. To hear and see him in action is to witness a musician in rapture, an engaging performer who wants to impart his pleasure to his audience. At Juilliard, McDuffie studied with legendary coach Dorothy DeLay, but shying away from most of the concerti mandatory for engagements with world-class orchestras, he’s embarked on a route less traveled, with stops in Australia, eastern Europe, Moscow, and smaller cities in North America. He’s played with the CSO, but only at Ravinia in summer-weight programs. And when he returns to our town this weekend, his partners will be the University of Chicago’s orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra–entities that don’t quite measure up to the CSO in repute. But the University Symphony Orchestra, despite constant turnover in its personnel, has been a reliable interpreter under the stewardship of Barbara Schubert, and the Budapest has been well received in the West since its formation in 1983. With the USO, McDuffie will perform the Barber concerto (which he recently recorded for Teldec) on a program that also includes the first symphonies of Barber and Tchaikovsky. He’ll team up with the Hungarians, under Ivan Fischer’s guidance, in the Mendelssohn concerto, which is sandwiched between folk dances orchestrated by Bartok and Brahms’s first symphony. Saturday (USO), 8 PM, and Sunday (Budapest), 7 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by J. Henry Fair.