Saturday, December 22, 2018

Jeremy Denk and Friends: Mozart Reflected: Violin Sonatas with Interludes in Three Acts - 12/16/18

Mozart: Violin Sonata in C Major, K. 6 
Ravel: Allegretto from Violin Sonata 
Mozart: Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301 
Adams: Relaxed Groove from Road Movies 
Mozart: Violin Sonata in D Major, K. 306 
Violinist: Benjamin Beilman 

Handel: Affetuoso and Allegro from Violin Sonata in D Major 
Mozart: Adagio Allegro and Andantino cantabile (Theme and Variations) from Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 379 
Stravinsky: Gigue and Dithyrambe from Duo concertant 
Mozart: Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 378 
Violinist: Stefan Jackiw 

Mozart: Violin Sonata in A Major, K. 305 
Webern: Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 7 
Mozart: Violin Sonata in E Minor, K. 304 
Schubert: Allegro from Violin Sonata in A Minor, D. 385 
Mozart: Violin Sonata in A Major, K. 526 
Violinist: Pamela Frank 

Can one can ever get too much of a good thing? That is the question that briefly went through my mind as I was entering my third hour of listening to pianist extraordinaire Jeremy Denk and his friends perform a Mozart-centric four-hour concert last Sunday afternoon in an originally packed, and then slowly emptying, Zankel concert hall.Hey, nobody said that classical music was for the faint of heart.
Although nothing indicated that the program would be that extensive when I bought the ticket, and I had missed the warning obligingly sent by Carnegie Hall as the date was getting closer, I of course could hardly complain about getting an awful lot of a good thing. Never mind that I was sitting with damp and cold feet the whole time due to my loyal Timberland boots’ decision to lose their waterproofness on the day Mother Nature elected to unceremoniously open the sky and drench the Big Apple.
The company, which included three brilliant violinists in addition to the one pianist/host/investigator of the intriguing extravaganza, and the program, which was a three-part foray into eight Mozart’s violin sonatas and some of the wide-ranging works they have more or less noticeable parallels with, made any physical discomfort or schedule upset totally irrelevant. Supporting intellectually stimulating artistic endeavors is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

After a brief introduction, which reminded us that hearing Denk talk about music is almost as enlightening as hearing play music, we started the first part of the concert with young but already much in demand violinist Benjamin Beilman and Mozart’s Violin Sonata in C Major, K. 6. This pleasant but essentially unremarkable little work, in which the piano constantly remains the main focus, may not hold a big candle to his later œuvre, but it still catches the listeners’ attention when they are made aware that the composer completed it by the tender age of seven. Ahhhhhhhhhh!
Seamlessly fast-forwarding one and a half century and swiftly crossing the pond, the Allegretto from Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata, which features cool jazz influences and a decidedly modern style under a classical surface, dwelled in the rugged individualism of the violin and piano too, with plenty of delicate textures and fun twists and turns.
From there we moved back to Mozart with his Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, which stands as irrefutable proof of the blazing progress that the by-then young adult had made. More complex, bristling with elegance and liveliness, and purposefully omitting any slow movement, it showed what an amazing difference almost two decades had made, especially when you’re a child prodigy to begin with.
Smoothly transitioning onto the contemporary scene again, but in the United States this time, the “Relaxed Groove” from John Adams’ Road Movies combined a solidly consistent piano and a more volatile violin, which deftly emphasized the consistency of driving and the unpredictability factor inherent to any road trip. A faux minimalist but a real pioneer, Adams keeps things fresh and exciting, and so did Denk and Beilman.
The first part of the program ended with Mozart’s Violin Sonata in D Major, K. 306, which showed yet another quantum leap in the relentless composer’s musical development, even though it was actually written just a few months after the K. 301. Constantly keeping performers and audience on their toes, it offered a dazzling array of tricks in an intricate structure.
The second part of the program, unofficially titled “Arcadia”, was meant to explore the joys and occasional darkness of Viennese music and life with violinist Stefan Jackiw. It started with the Affetuoso and the Allegro of George Friderich Handel’s substantial Violin Sonata in D Major, his last piece of chamber music. Both turned out to be as well-balanced, vivacious and engaging as could be, definitely more cheerful than somber.
Mozart was back in full force with his Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 379, which unusually opens with an enchantingly melodic Adagio. It is followed by a comparatively short and aggressively intense Allegro that stood in high contrast with the generally more subdued Andantino cantabile that followed. Written in haste, the work still gave the lead to the piano, but made sure the violin had its say as well.
The next surprise guest was endlessly inventive Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, whose exuberant Gigue and tragic Dithyrambe from his neoclassical Duo concertant came out respectively as infectiously energetic and hauntingly beautiful, modernizing 18th century music for the 20th century in impeccable style.
 To conclude this second third of the program, Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 378 brought eclectic feats and virtuosic sparks, as well as a downright stunning Andantino sostenuto e cantabile, all those parts being finally more or less equally shared by the two often breathless instruments.
The third and last part of the program, which would be performed in one fell swoop, was dedicated to the voyage from sunny outside to darker inside of Mozart’s music and featured no less that distinguished violinist and educator Pamela Frank, who was also, and maybe not so coincidentally, the violin professor of Benjamin Beilman at the Curtis Institute of Music. Going right down to business with Mozart’s two-movement Violin Sonata in A Major, K. 305, the two instruments remained in an essentially happy-go-lucky mood and before wrapping things up niftily.
Still in Vienna, but jumping ahead by over a century, we got to savor Second Viennese School master Anton Webern’s carefully crafted and rigorously symmetrical Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 7. The two slow short-lived nuggets interspersed by the two longer and surprisingly lyrical movements sounded as boldly innovative as when the piece was first released.
Last but not least, we crossed this marathon's finish line with Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E Minor, K. 526, which was the last of his significant violin sonatas. Now at the top of his game, the composer did not hold back on technical challenges, and those would probably be incredibly daunting to most musicians, but obviously not to Denk and Frank. Each instrument got its moment in the spotlight before making beautiful music together into the high-flying Rondo and all the way to the end. A new era had begun.

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