Monday, January 31, 2011

Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood - Brahms, Schubert, Grieg, Sibelius & Wieniawski - 01/30/11

Brahms: Violin Sonata No 2 in A Major, Op. 100
Schubert: Fantasy in C Major, D. 934
Grieg: Violin Sonata No 2 in G Major, Op. 13
Sibelius: Romance, Op. 78, No 2
Wieniawski: Polonaise Brillante

After three very successful visits to the Met so far this year, it had been high time to go back to the local concert halls as well. And it looked like 2011 would be off to an excellent, if belated, start on the concert front with a recital by Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood at the Alice Tully Hall yesterday. The former was as familiar as the latter was unknown, and I had no idea of what they would be playing, but what the heck. The fact that the performance would take place in the Alice Tully Hall was an added bonus, not only because it is walking distance from my apartment, but also because I really hadn’t had many chances to enjoy its comfortably intimate and acoustically pleasing environment yet. So that’s where I went late yesterday afternoon, on a day where New Yorkers were finally able to revel in a rare combination of gentle sunshine, milder temperatures and mostly dry sidewalks.

Brahms kicked off the program with a lovely sonata, unfailingly bringing to mind the bucolic Swiss location in which it was written as well as the tender feelings the composer was harboring toward the dear lady friend to whom it was dedicated. The piece started with gentle nonchalance, and even when things got more intense, it all remained very graceful and unmistakably civilized. From the very first notes, Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood proved that their collaboration was going to be a winning one with their two instruments effortlessly complementing each other. And that was just the beginning.
Schubert has never rocked my world with most of his œuvre, but on the other hand I am totally addicted to his chamber music works. So I was thrilled to see his Fantasy in C Major on the program, and I have to say that yesterday's interpretation of it was definitely my personal highlight of the whole concert. After a beguiling opening during which long, luminous violin phrases beautifully rose above an incessantly brooding piano, the mood quickly perked up and we were on for 25 uninterrupted minutes of elegant melodies and energetic outbursts, all the way to the unabashedly joyful finale. Expertly negotiating the numerous intricacies while keeping up their momentum, Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood did full justice to the virtuosic tour de force at hand. My evening was made, but luckily was not over yet.
After a well-deserved break, they came back with the sunny sonata No 2 by Grieg. A volatile combination of lyricism and colors, it is a naturally engaging piece that the two musicians were savvy enough not to unnecessarily adorn, but rather let fully breathe and shine. And so it did.
Staying in a Scandinavian mood, we went on to Sibelius’ Romance, a short and charming romantic treat.
Next, things got much more jumpy with Wieniawski’s Polonaise Brillante, which fiercely mixed fun and delicacy, with a few tricky twists and turns thrown in for good measure.

My first but totally worth the wait concert in the New Year (two days short of February, it was about time!) concluded way too early, but on an exquisitely dreamy note with the Nocturne in C Sharp Minor by Chopin. Granted, things couldn't get much better than that.

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