Vitali: Chaconne in G Minor
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, (Kreutzer)
Fauré: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 13
Some traditions are just that, but others occasionally bring an extra something that makes them all the more memorable. When I was originally heading to Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium for my annual rendez-vous with Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood on Wednesday night, my main goal was to enjoy superior playing by two seasoned musicians.
What I was not expecting was that Joshua Bell would dedicate the concert to his teacher, Josef Gingold, who would have turned 106 on that night, and that he would also take that opportunity to celebrate his 30th year of performing in the prestigious music venue as well.
The program was therefore filled with oldies but goodies, including Tomaso Antonio Vitali's feisty Italian Chaconne, Beethoven's intrinsically German Kreutzer sonata and Fauré's exquisitely French Violin Sonata No. 1. Just the little pick-me-up I needed after an endlessly grey and rainy Hump Day.
Impeccably nailing Vitali's Chaconne for starters was an unambiguous way for Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood to assert their command of their art and whet our appetite for the bigger and better things that were about to come. Regardless of the recent controversy surrounding the actual author of the work, it was a flavorful treat.
But it soon paled in comparison to the magnificent Kreutzer sonata that was next, a deeply visceral journey from moody to meditative to exuberant, the two musicians always striking the perfect balance between them. Emotions were flying high, the tone was gorgeous, the precision infallible. Later on, as we were all leaving the hall, a woman behind me authoritatively stated that "the first big one was very good", and the spontaneous eruption of applause after the first movement only confirmed was everyone could easily hear. This was a grand Kreutzer indeed.
The Fauré sonata that followed is certainly an accomplished composition, and it was performed with the utmost professionalism, offering a welcome, if not complete, respite from all the ever-shifting turbulences that had preceded it. What it did not have in sheer magnitude was more than made up for in the work's natural charm and subtle wit.
The evening was rounded up with a small smorgasbord of violin-centric gems such as an infectious Hungarian Dance No. 1 by Brahms, a bittersweet Liebesleid by Kreisler and a devilishly virtuosic Scherzo tarantelle by Wieniawski, which Joshua Bell had not performed since an appearance on the Johnny Carson show in 1981. The young prodigy has decidedly come a long way.