Brahms: Violin Sonata No 2 in A Major, Op. 100
Ysaye: Sonata in G Major for Unaccompanied Violin, Ip. 27, No 5
Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No 1 in F Minor, Op. 80
Old Albion does not contend itself to regular spawn upon the world pop bands or singers of various degrees of talent, it also remains a fertile ground for classical musicians as well, and this was clearly obvious last night at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center. Although her background has a touch of exoticism, she's Scottish of Italian heritage, the barely legal Nicola Benedetti has quickly become a media darling across the pond. Her accompanist for her Washington debut was an equally fresh-looking Russian woman, Katya Apekisheva, and the duo had come to present us a very attractive and challenging smorgasbord of musical works.
It all started predictably enough with Brahms whose gentle Violin Sonata in A Major evokes so clearly the bucolic Swiss scenery that inspired it. Far from the austere mood of the fourth symphony he had completed not long ago, it is all graciousness and sweet melodies. Nicola Benedetti dwelt into it with a lot of unbounded energy, if not always the desired subtleness, while Katya Apekisheva kept pace in a more restrained fashion.
After the pretty beginning, things got decisively down and dirty with the Sonata for Solo Violin by Ysaye, which shook things up quite a bit. A virtuoso violin himself, he one day decided to write six works for unaccompanied violins, each dedicated to one distinguished violinist at the time. The fifth sonata was intended for Mathieu Crickboom, and if the recipient is forgotten today, the musical piece is still alive, definitely well and often kicking. From L'aurore (Dawn) to the Danse rustique (Rustic Dance), it runs the whole gamut of violin sounds before the grand finale, and Ms. Benedetti generated plenty of fireworks during these 15 minutes.
Prokofiev's sonata No 1 is a beautifully engaging piece, but requires I think some mental preparation to really take it all in. Written during trying times in Russian history, it forcefully conveys darkness and bleakness without much of even a glimmer of hope. The beginning immediately sets the tone with the piano playing an ostinato passage and the violin making a plaintive, nagging entrance. Last night, the duo kept the mood grim throughout the various changes in tempo, and the icy wind was blowing again to bring the piece to its dreary end. Luckily, Ravel's Tzigane cheered things up with its fiery Gypsy melodies and festive spirit. It is a fun, infectious tune, and the girls were not afraid to let their hair down and finally have a rolling good time.
As if that was not enough, the encore was the second movement of Ravel's Violin Sonata, and its sensual jazziness added yet another dimension to our very eclectic and ultimately pretty satisfying evening.