Thursday, November 17, 2011

Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood - Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Ysaye & Franck - 11/14/11

Mendelssohn: Violin Sonata in F Major
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 7 in C Minor, Op. 30, No 2
Ysaye: Solo Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 27, No 3, "Ballade"
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major

Planning a vacation out of town is always tricky because no matter how attractive the destinations are (and let’s face it, Provence and Paris are not half bad) some exciting performances are inevitably going to be missed on the home turf. So the goal is to squeeze as much as possible before and after in order to minimize the sacrifices and not have them come back and haunt me while I’m abroad.
That’s why on my first official vacation evening I found myself in the Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall for a recital by Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood, a nice way to ease myself into some carefree time before flying off to the City of Lights the next day. The composers on the program, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Ysaye and Franck, promised some engaging complex "comfort music", and the two headliners some predictably brilliant playing. What more could I ask for to leave the Big Apple on a grand note?

Mendelssohn’s long-ignored Violin Sonata in F Major opened the concert with full-blown romantic élan and decisively highlighted the effortless chemistry between the two musicians. From the very beginning, the vibrant combination of the piano’s playfulness and the violin’s lushness cast a very special spell over the audience, prompting a shy but still heart-felt ovation after the first movement, something that I had never witnessed during a sonata. It seems that every time I think I have seen everything in a concert hall, a new unexpected occurrence manages to prove me wrong.
After Mendelssohn’s radiant lyricism, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No 7 brought some subtly dark hues to the general mood as soon as the first notes resounded. After relishing the monumental "Kreutzer" last week, I appreciated all the more the human scale of the No 7. Here again, Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood played their parts with surgical precision and ardent virtuosity.
After intermission, Joshua Bell was back on the stage by himself for Ysaye’s Solo Violin Sonata in D Minor and provided some glorious evidence that practice, practice, practice does pay off. Although I don’t know how much he had practiced this particular piece, the “Ballade” certainly gave one of the most popular violinists in the world the perfect opportunity to make full use of the bag of tricks he’s been filling up all these years. After all, nobody gets to celebrate their 30th performance in 26 years at Carnegie Hall, which Joshua Bell did on Monday night, by slacking off.
With Sam Haywood back at the piano, they concluded the program with an unabashedly passionate rendition of Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major. In turns dreamily luminous and intensely fiery, this stunningly beautiful love letter has long been a favorite among musicians and listeners. Taking their task obviously to heart, the two artists treated their clearly captivated audience to an absorbing, richly nuanced performance.

We simply couldn’t leave one another like this. So the night concluded with a delicate "Nocturne" by Chopin, which rose and unfolded like a memorable, bitter-sweet good-bye... until next time.

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