Thursday, March 4, 2010

WPAS - Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk - Bach, Grieg, Schumann & Ravel - 03/03/10

Bach: Sonata No 4 in C Minor for Violin and Keyboard, BWV 1017
Grieg: Violin Sonata No 3 in C Minor, Op. 45
Schumann: Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor, Op. 105
Ravel: Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano

Frustratingly delayed, yes, but thankfully not denied, the performance did eventually take place. Cancelled due to challenging wintry conditions, the annual recital by Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk had been rescheduled from early February to yesterday evening, still at Strathmore, and the WPAS audience quickly proved their resilience by showing up in droves on a cold and damp, but clear, night. Their program typically consists of a few works from various times and styles, and every year the assorted pieces eventually find a transcendental coherence that has the public leave the concert hall inspired and enlightened. Yesterday evening, Bach, Grieg, Schumann and Ravel had the privilege to be performed by two of the finest classical musicians around today, and we were particularly grateful they cared enough to find the time of their no doubt hectic lives to finally come and entertain us.

It is hard to go wrong with Bach as a starter. The first celebrity composer without whom the evolution of music would probably look very different, he does not need the chronological advantage to be fully appreciated, his oeuvre more than justifying his constant appeal. The sonata we heard last night was a memorable model of balance between the two instruments, enhanced by discreet yet very present effects in the individual playing.
The surprise of the evening was Grieg's Sonata No 3 that was replacing Saint-Saëns'. That was a good decision because after Bach's restrained tone the Norwegian composer's passionate lyricism vividly rose up like a warm, all-enveloping wave into the hushed auditorium. The famously sweet tone of Joshua Bell's violin combined with Jeremy Denk's boldly free-flowing style turned out to be the ideal pairing for an unexpected but deeply enjoyable foray into full-blown Romanticism.
Schumann kept us in the same mood with passages alternatively featuring dramatic surges and gentler melodies. Here again, the two musicians delivered a richly nuanced performance of this all-around lovely work.
As the official last piece, Ravel's Sonata in G Major sure brought a touch of eclecticism to the festivities with its jazz-flavored second movement, probably picked up from some American jazz band in Paris in the 1920s. The strumming at the start of that striking "Blues" movement and its attractively languorous rhythms make it a definite stand-out, but the whole work was easy and fun to get into, concluding the announced program with plenty of virtuosic coolness.

That was not all though, and the party favor of the evening was Fritz Kreisler's Slavonic Fantasy, a short but impactful encore to masterfully wrap up two hours of pure bliss.

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