Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adam Banda & Konstantin Soukhovetski - Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Sains-Saëns, Bartok, Sarasate, Hubay & Vajda - 09/17/11

Bach: Chaconne from Partita No 2 for solo violin
Chopin: Nocturne No 20 in C-sharp minor, Op. Posth. (arr. Milstein)
Tchaikovsky: Valse-Scherzo in C-Major, Op. 34
Sains-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capricioso in A minor, Op. 28
Bartok: Rhapsody No 2, Sz. 90, BB96
Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), Op. 20
Hubay: Carmen-Fantasie Brillante
Hubay: Preghiera (Prayer)
Vajda : Just for you for solo violin

The end of my musical summer has turned out to be quite an unpredictable roller coaster featuring vertiginous highs and heart-breaking lows. It all started with a huge disappointment when the final performance of Mozart’s Requiem that was supposed to wrap up the Mostly Mozart Festival was cancelled because a particularly ill-timed, extremely wet, but eventually wimpish Irene had decided to come our way. Then it peaked with the screenings of the Met’s “Lucia de Lammermoor” and “Don Carlo” on the Lincoln Center Plaza, complete with an excellent sound and mesmerizing close-ups under a (for the most part) starry sky. Even the few rain drops that dared to appear right before the start of “Don Carlo” quickly stopped. However, the thrill of seeing my favorite production of last season again was later severely dampened by the news of the untimely death of much beloved, big-hearted Italian tenor Salvadore Licitra.
As the approach of fall has suddenly brought much cooler temperatures, the time has now come to get ready for some more regular musical enjoyments. So it is in that expectant spirit that I finally got around to checking the concert schedule of the Symphony Space. I am ashamed to confess that although the dynamic cultural center stands just a few blocks from my apartment, I had never paid that much attention to it before. But this sorry state of affairs has finally changed after I noticed that Hungarian “Violin Virtuoso” Adam Banda was going to make his NY debut yesterday afternoon. Let’s face it, there are worse ways to informally start a new musical season than with Bach’s unsurpassed Chaconne!

I always give extra credit for boldness, but starting a performance with the Himalaya of the violin répertoire that is the Chaconne when you’re a gifted, yes, but still up-coming young musician sounded more like plain recklessness, if you asked me. An Alpine summit such as Zigeunerweisen, featured later in the program, would have sufficed, but hey, the Chaconne it was. Looking a bit nervous but nevertheless fully committed to the task at hand, Adam Banda managed to deliver a rather respectable interpretation of it. The occasional lapse of assuredness or lack of subtlety seemed to stem as much from his relative inexperience as from the formidable challenge facing him, and things will in all likelihood improve as he and his talent continue to mature.
The same could be said of his Nocturne No 20 from Chopin, beautifully arranged by Nathan Milstein for violin and piano. While he channeled the French composer’s musings with heart-felt competence, now accompanied by equally young and talented pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski - apparently a local favorite if judged from the warm welcome he received - the duo did not always succeed in conveying the haunting quality that is fundamentally associated with the work.
Despite my unwavering love for Tchaikovsky, I cannot say that his Valse-Scherzo has ever rocked my world. It is good fun and all, but I’ve always found its existence merely anecdotal. Adam Banda, however, suddenly sounded as if he had finally found his groove and treated us to a pleasingly vivacious version of this regular recording filler.
No doubt more substantial and intricate is Sains-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capricioso, which was written especially for violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate and highlights the seemingly endless possibilities of the violin thanks to the composer’s thorough knowledge of the instrument. Adam Banda happily dove into it, eliciting bright, colorful sounds that would have made Sains-Saëns proud.
The second part of the program was mostly focusing on Hungarian composers and started with Bartok’s Rhapsody No 2. Now completely in his element, Adam Banda did not hesitate to let loose for an exhilarating homage to the folk dances of his native country.
Still in a festive mood, he moved on to one of my favorite solo violin pieces, the high-flying Zigeunerweisen by, him again, Sarasate. More pointedly inspired by the spirited rhythms of gypsy airs, it has been a staple of concerts and recordings for well over a century now, and its infectious charm has remained as alive and kicking today as on the day it was premièred by the man himself. Adam Banda may not be Pablo de Sarasate, but his enthusiastic, exciting performance of it yesterday certainly brought him a little closer, earning him his biggest ovation of the afternoon in the process.
Another Hungarian violinist and composer, Jeno Hubay, was also under the spotlight with his Carmen-Fantasie Brillante, obviously based on the stunning melodies of Bizet’s opera, and it was very enjoyable to hear these pared-down versions of them.
Next was his soulful “Preghiera”, during which both musicians blended harmoniously together.
The official concert ended on a downright attractive piece that its composer, Janos Vajda, eventually dedicated to Adam Banda out of respect and admiration. And the dedicatee did not less than full justice to the delightful gift.

Our fervent ovation earned us not one, but two encores. I have no idea what the first one was, but the second and last one was definitely the first movement of Saint- Saëns’ violin concerto No 3, also dedicated to Sarasate, which wrapped up the concert with a lovely final bouquet of brilliant melodies.

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