Monday, March 19, 2012

Recital – Vadim Repin, Violin; Itamar Golan, Piano. March 17, 2012.

Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat L112, $60.)

Sonata for Violin and Piano by Leos Janacek (1854-1928).
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).
Sonata No. 2 in G major for Violin and Piano, Op. 13 by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907).
Poeme, Op. 25 by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899).
Tzigane by Ravel.

For me Repin will forever be remembered as the violinist who broke a string during a performance with the New York Philharmonic: it was the Tchaikovsky concerto, if memory serves.  He is of course also a brilliant violinist, although I haven’t had the chance to hear him very often.  When I found out half price tickets were available for this concert, I decided to get them, even though we would have attended a concert the day before.

Ellie would come up from Jersey City to meet us for dinner, and Anne was in Flushing earlier that afternoon, so we all got to Ed’s Chowder House via different means – although I did meet up with Anne before we parked the car.  Ellie was delayed, so dinner was a bit rushed; still good.  We tried to get her to join us for the concert, but she decided not to.

This was the first time I can remember ever going to Alice Tully Hall.  It has a seating capacity of 1086, not nearly as small as I would expect.  Having been renovated just a couple of years ago, the seats have a bit more leg room than the Met Opera House or Avery Fisher, and are quite comfortable.  The abundant presence of wood and the spikes on the back of the stage would make one think the hall should have great acoustics.  It turns out the sound was just so-so, even for our seats which are quite close to the performers.

The Program Notes are individual write-ups of the pieces from different sources, so there is not a consistency to how the descriptions were approached.  The way the program was set up, one could say the first half was more chamber music, with the pianist playing an equally important role as the violinist, and the second half was more a showcase of the violinist’s virtuosity, even though the pianist would have his work cut out for him.

Janacek wrote the bulk of the sonata in 1913 and 1914, but the first world war intervened, and by the time he completed it in 1921, the politics of the region had changed drastically: the Russian Army had marched into Hungary, and its incursion into Moravia was imminent.  The Sonata contains Moravian folksongs, and a high piano tremolo passage represents the Russian Army’s entering Hungary.  On first listening, it is difficult to read into what Janacek was trying to say.  Technically, the piece was difficult, but not extraordinarily so.

A couple of factoids about this sonata.  It was Janacek’s third violin sonata, but the first two are lost.  Also, one of the movement’s tranquil passage (a lyrical Ballada) was written as a separate piece before the war.  The Program Notes doesn’t tell us what the movements are; Wikipedia describes the four movements as Con moto, Balada, Allegretto, and Adagio.  I heard only three distinct sections, perhaps the Balada and Allegretto movements are done without pause?

Like the Janacek sonata, Ravel’s work is also about 20 minutes long.  The Program Notes describes the three movements as Allegretto, Bluesy, and Allegro.  The first movement starts simple enough, but places more and more demand on the performers.  The second movement is indeed Gershwinian blue, with a lot of sliding to reach a note typical of jazz music.  I thought there was a bit of intonation problem, though.  What is amazing is that there is a lot of what I would call violent pizzicato in the music.  I was wondering if there would be another string breaking incident, and a bit worried as there was no replacement violin in sight.  The third movement is technically challenging, with lots of fast 16th note runs, double octaves, flying staccatos, and other virtuoso idioms.  I think many in the audience held their breath for much longer than usual, I certainly did.

The applause was enthusiastic, to put it mildly, and well-deserved.  What I didn’t expect was there was sporadic clapping after each movement.  It got to be more of a problem as the concert progressed.  Later in the program several people clapped during a break in Grieg's first movement, causing quite a bit of “sheeeshing” from the audience.  Different performers react differently to this, these two guys just kept playing.  I think Lincoln Center should start putting in these notices asking the audience to applaud only after the completion of an entire work; the New York crowd is not that sophisticated, after all.

Grieg’s most popular violin concerto probably is his first.  Even though I have the second on my iPod, it is not familiar to me.  It was composed in 1867 and dedicated to Johan Svendsen.  The movements are Lento doloroso – Allegro vivace, Allegretto tranquillo, and Allegro animato.  The second movement is classical in its ABA format, and thus quite easy to follow.  For the uninitiated, the other two movements should simply be enjoyed as virtuoso pieces.  (It is during the first movements that some people applauded.)

Chausson’s Poeme, written in 1889, is a standard piece in the violinist repertoire.  Originally written for violin and orchestra, Chausson himself adapted it for violin and piano.  Musically it is simple, starting soft, getting loud, and ending soft again.  Technically it is quite a different matter, and Repin put in a most enjoyable performance.

Most violinist would consider Tzigane (which means Gypsy Music) unplayable.  It starts simple enough, but soon calls for trills in double stops (I won’t even know how to begin to practice this.)  The tempo eventually becomes frantic, with the violin doing rapid harmonics.  Against what the music would sound like in my ear (if I had the music), I would say Repin put in a rather sloppy performance.  But no one really cared, it was just amazing to hear someone attempt such fireworks on the violin, and occasionally pulling it off.

It turns out I have a recording of Tzigane by Itzhak Perlman.  I am sure sound track engineering of music played in a recording studio had a lot to do with it: it sounded much cleaner.

Repin played two popular violin pieces as encores.  Frustratingly I don’t remember their titles.  Enjoyable, and probably a good way to let the audience down from its earlier frenzy.  We therefore didn’t get to leave until about 9:45 pm, making this a rather lengthy concert.  The drive home was very straightforward, with very little traffic, especially for a Saturday night.

It is interesting that during chamber music performances one always hears blemishes: a missed note here, a slightly off-pitch sound there.  This was the same with the last violin/piano recital I went to with Zukerman and Bronfman playing.  Also, the program then (Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms) was one where one enjoys the music more than the virtuosity of tonight’s concert.  Both Repin and Zukerman play Guarneri violins, sometimes you wish Repin used a Stradivarius tonight so we could get a more brilliant sound.

A few remarks about the pianist Golan.  Lithuania-born, raised in Israel since he was one, he now teaches at the Paris Conservatory after a stint at the Manhattan School of Music.  He was at least a head shorter than Repin, prompting the thinking that the two had the two instruments mixed up.  But he kept pace with Repin’s theatrics with his own flair.  Many times he would fight with the page-turner (who sometimes had trouble.)  The way he takes a bow is like someone about to get into a duel: never take your eye off the opponent.  I am sure he holds his own as a piano soloist, but alas for this concert it is all Repin.

I am glad we decided to go.  And we sure did get our money’s worth.

Today we found the review in the New York Times.  The reviewer is brutal, saying the Tzigane ended in a train wreck.  He didn't say what the encore pieces were either.

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