Sunday, November 2, 2008

WPAS - Midori & Robert McDonald - Schumann, Beethoven, Cage & Enescu -11/02/08

Midori: Violin
Robert McDonald: Piano
Schumann: Violin Sonata in A Minor, Op. 105
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 96
John Cage: Six Melodies
Enescu: Violin Sonata No 3 in A Minor, Op. 25

A tiny woman with a huge talent, Midori graced the stage of Strathmore this afternoon together with her long-time musical partner, the esteemed pianist Robert McDonald. A child prodigy, she made her professional debut at 11 as a surprise guest soloist for the New York Philharmonic’s traditional New Year Eve concert, and the rest is history. Now in her late thirties, she continues to dazzle audiences all over the world with her sweet disposition and refined playing.

For unknown reasons, Schumann has never done much for me. I wouldn’t conscientiously avoid a concert featuring his work, but I would certainly never go out of my way either. Reportedly intimidated by the violin while he was by all accounts an accomplished pianist, he eventually managed to write for the feared instrument, and this sonata was his first one. It was pleasant enough, but never got me fully engaged until the third movement, which concluded the piece on a decidedly upbeat note.
Next was Beethoven’s sonata, the final he ever wrote, and this was an absolute delight. The various moods were beautifully expressed, from the simple grace of the Adagio espressivo to the complex Poco allegretto, full of twists and turns and constantly surprising, before ending with a sparkling finale. Both musicians played it with full coordination and really helped the music come alive.
The second part of the concert was dedicated to more recent and probably less well-known composers, and was an interesting combination of different musical styles. The six songs by John Cage were very short and understated dialogues between the two instruments. Although this made it hard to really get into them, a little bit of concentration ended up being very rewarding.
Lastly, the violin sonata by Georges Enescu, himself one of the finest violinists of his time, was a completely winning combination of classical and Romanian folk music. The result is unusual, but not unsettling, mostly because instead of inserting de facto Romanian tunes, the gypsy fiddler’s evocations are very subtle and often barely noticeable. It is a beautiful and popular work, all variations and harmonies, including some atypical sounds such as the obsessive one-note piano ostinato opening the second movement. Quite a spirited way to end a concert… or almost end a concert, as it turned out.

As the audience was clamoring for more, they came back to deliver a lovely performance of "Méditation" from Thaïs by Massenet… and this time really ended the concert on a quiet and, well, meditative note.

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