Goldberg: Sonata for Two Violins and Keyboard in C Major (formerly attributed to J.S. Bach, BWV 1037)
Mozart: Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major, K. 423
Wieniawski: Étude-caprice No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 18
Wieniawski: Étude-caprice No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 18
Bartok: Selections from Forty-Four Duos for Two Violins, BB 104
Moszkowski: Suite for Two Violins and Piano in G Minor, Op. 71
Getting a chance to hear legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman is way too rare of a pleasure these days mostly because he does not schedule enough performances. Getting a chance to hear legendary pianist Martha Argerich is way too rare of a pleasure these days too, mostly because she schedules performances and then cancels. So needless to say that after seeing both of them headlining a recital at Carnegie Hall this season, I immediately grabbed one of the fast-going tickets and kept my fingers solidly crossed.
Unfortunately, they were not crossed solidly enough because a few weeks before the concert date, Martha Argerich cancelled. Apparently nonplussed by the frustrating but not entirely unexpected change of plan, Perlman dug into his no doubt impressive Rolodex and got violinist and violist Pinchas Zukerman and pianist Rohan de Silva on board for a seemingly casual yet unmistakably high-flying evening of virtuosic music-making.Therefore, the music would go on.
On Thursday, one day after our fourth nor’easter in three weeks brought the city to a semi-halt again, things were more or less back to usual. And Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium was packed to the rafters, where I found myself amidst a surprisingly young audience, quite possibly due to Zukerman’s tireless dedication to music education.
The concert started with court harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg’s Sonata for Two Violins and Keyboard, which used to be attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach, who of course wrote the famous Goldberg Variations (It’s a small world after all). Staunchly conventional in the best sense of the term, the charming composition immediately set the mood for the rest of the evening as emotionally conflict-free and musically gratifying.
Next, the focus turned exclusively onto the strings with the Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major by the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the hands of veteran stringers and long-time buddies Perlman and Zukerman, the lively dialog, which may have sounded unassuming at first, became a splendid feast of complexity, elegance and light-heartedness. I even dare say that at times Zukerman’s magnificently burnished viola almost upstaged Perlman’s effortlessly singing violin.
This week has turned out to be a mini Henryk Wieniawski festival for me as after hearing his second violin concerto courtesy of Joshua Bell on Monday, I got to hear two of his miniature étude-caprices courtesy of Perlman and Zukerman on Thursday. Even better, the selected works constituted a fascinating study in contrasts with the Étude-caprice No. 1 coming along engaging but fundamentally low-key and the Étude-caprice No. 4 brazenly exploding with fierce pyrotechnics, all in about six minutes total.
After intermission, both violinists came back for several tunes selected from Bela Bartok’s Forty-Four Duos for Two Violins, each of which was introduced by Perlman. Drawing inspiration from folk music found in places as far out as the Middle-East, the majority of those delightful nuggets came out as festive dance songs, only to be tempered by the sorrowful “Sadness”.
Rohan de Silva was back at the keyboard for Moritz Moszkowski’s Suite for Two Violins and Piano in G Minor, which at 20 minutes was the longest work of the concert. Wrapping up the official program in full Romantic mood, the trio had a ball expertly bringing out the cheerful melodies, colorful drama and glorious lyricism of the unpretentious yet brilliant piece.
But the memorable soirée was not quite over yet, as the three musicians came back for an extended encore with Shostakovich’s Three Duets for Two Violins and Piano, Op. 97d, which concluded our evening on a slightly elegiac - and, of course, totally elevated - note.