Thursday, February 5, 2009

WPAS - Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk - Janacek, Brahms, Ysaye & Franck - 02/04/09

Janacek: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Ysaye: Sonata in A Minor for Unaccompanied Violin, Op. 27, No 2
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major

One day after the emerging ladies from the Old World at the Kennedy Center, a duo of all-American more seasoned gentlemen showed up at Strathmore last night. Introducing Joshua Bell seems utterly superfluous nowadays, and if there's any bit of justice left on this planet, his equally talented accompanist Jeremy Denk should also reach the pinnacle of glory any day now. The program had a little something for everybody, and I'm still pinching myself for getting to hear another unaccompanied violin sonata by Ysaye so soon after my first taste of it. Incidentally, all the works listed were composed later in the life of their creators, when they were recognized artists at the peak of their art, so I guess sometimes older is indeed better.

The first piece was the one I was the most curious about. Probably more exotic than the rest of the selection, Janacek's Sonata for Violin and Piano was a maybe unsettling, but all things considered brillant way to grab the audience's attention right away. Throughout the work, the combination of earthy folk tunes and unusual, unexpected sonorities was vividly contrasted with the sheer beauty of the melodies. The second movement, in particular, was as romantic as can be, and the Adagio, featuring some sharp interjections from the violin over a gentle piano, eventually brought the piece to a whispering end.
It was just one small step from this ethereal ending to the full-fledged Romanticism of Brahms and his third Violin Sonata. Yet another example of his extraordinary craftsmanship, it proves once again that his claim of not understanding stringed instruments well enough to compose for them shouldn't be taken too seriously. It is complex, deeply convincing music, and Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk brought it home effortlessly.
Hearing another sonata for solo violin by Ysaye made me think that stars do align sometimes. His second one, whose first movement is titled Obsession, was dedicated to the violinist Jacques Thibaud, who notably championed Bach when it was not particularly fashionable. The obsession, however, is not entirely about Bach, although his presence is felt throughout the piece, but the ever popular death-evoking Gregorian chant Dies Irae. The sonata makes full and incredible use of the violinist's impressive bag of tricks, and concludes in a virtuosic tour de force. Having one of the world's top violinists perform it promised wonders, and the result was a grand musical experience indeed.
After Ysaye's fiery finale, it was back on familiar territory with Franck's Proustian Violin Sonata in A. Boasting of a delicate balance between dreamy romanticism and intense lyricism, this richly poetic, cyclical work exudes Gallic passion and elegance, and last night the audience was masterfully taken to that magical place where everything comes together in perfect harmony.

But complete fulfillment did not mean we had reached the end of the journey yet, and our encore was the ultimate candy for the road back to reality in the form of a heavenly sweet and deliciously lingering "Méditation" from Thaïs. Predictable, sure, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.

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