Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Full-dimensional: Superb violin-piano duo ends IVCI concert season

Augustin Hadelich has a winner's knack for coming up to the level of whatever he plays.
With its generous blend of the familiar and the lesser-known, Tuesday's recital here featuring Augustin Hadelich  promised much on paper. Fortunately, it delivered the goods in actuality, too.

Hadelich returned once more to town, having built worldwide on the promise he established with his 2006 gold medal victory in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. The organization brought him to the Glick Indiana History Center stage with his frequent duo partner, pianist Orion Weiss, whose program biography is likewise replete with an abundance of honors and globetrotting engagements.

The duo opened with Beethoven and closed with John Adams. The men's precision and spirit was amply demonstrated in performances of the German's Sonata No. 4 in A minor, op. 23, and the American's "Road Movies."  Adams' carefully blossoming minimalism is on attractive display in the 1995 work, with its three movements titled, with illuminating offhandedness, "Relaxed Groove," "Meditative," and "40% Swing."

Orion Weiss brought excitement and precision to match Hadelich's.
The first movement was rhythmically agile cruising music, testing well the piano-violin partnership. Hadelich and Weiss hit no bumps in the road — clearly they were in pothole-free territory. The second movement displays Adams' calmer side, yet capable of bringing emotion to the fore (a quality that helps his operas succeed). There also was a severity to parts of this engaging music that recalled the angular outlines of Aaron Copland's "Piano Variations." So it was appropriate not just because of "Americana" associations that the duo responded to the audience demand for an encore with Copland's "Hoedown," an arrangement of the finale of the ballet "Rodeo." The encore matched the vernacular energy Adams draws upon in "40% Swing," whose rapid pace of figuration touches upon both country fiddling and jazz.

Hadelich and Weiss also visited the mainstream of the violin-piano repertoire. Their account of the Beethoven
sonata boded well for what else they played with like-minded understanding and flawless execution. I admired the mutual rapport with which they shaped phrases. Dynamic contrasts were pronounced, as Beethoven's score requires. Both showed a firm sense of who should be "leading" at any point. Particularly enlivening was the pungency of Weiss' left hand: anything in the bass or baritone register was unfailingly well-defined.

Brahms' genial Sonata No 2 in A major, op. 100, set the tone for an upbeat second half. Hadelich's tone had a rich mahogany hue in the frequently low-lying writing for violin. Weiss' touch made another sensitive adjustment to the score's personality, becoming mellow and songlike.

There were solo showcases for both players. Hadelich's was a fused presentation of Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 6 in E major, with Hyperlude No. 5 for Solo Violin, by the young Spanish composer Francisco Coll, offered as a prelude. The Coll was a muted interior monologue, with a peculiarly flamenco style of lyricism, out of which burst the Ysaye. It was gratifying to hear a performance of this Spanish-influenced work, familiar to many followers of the IVCI over the years, that was thoroughly in tune — unlike several I browsed among online after failing to find the version I own.

Weiss' solo turn was the fiendishly difficult and rewarding "L'isle joyeuse" of Claude Debussy. This is one of those pieces by the French master that strikes one with the miracle of how music so revolutionary can also be so pretty. Hearing "L'isle joyeuse" deeply exposes the listener to absolutely novel approaches to musical coherence involving phrasing, harmony, rhythm and tone color that are thoroughly convincing. And the surface charm of the music never ceases; even the fanfare passages near the end seem extraordinary, despite precursors in the glory of 19th-century French music from Berlioz to Saint-Saens. Weiss delivered the piece with full-spectrum panache and precision.

Late Debussy was also on the program in the form of the concise violin-piano sonata of 1917. A summing-up as well as a bit of nose-thumbing in the face of a horrid war and the composer's losing battle with cancer, the sonata features both architecture and drama, pathos and stoicism in balance. Especially effective in this performance was the whimsical aspect of the second movement and its blithe ability to seem both dreamy and down-to-earth. Among the great gifts these musicians brought to this concert was full sympathy with the special characteristics of such a variety of composers. They didn't seem to be wrapping all the music around themselves. Instead, they entered each diverse realm with curiosity and respect.

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