Saturday, February 27, 2021

IVCI renews its Laureate Series with silver medalist Tessa Lark's homage to Fritz Kreisler

Famous for his eminence on the concert stage for most of the 20th century's first half, Fritz Kreisler also had a career notable for two major interruptions. Thus in a sense it was natural,

Fritz Kreisler has unique charisma among violinists.

given the interruptions the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis has had to navigate during the pandemic, for the resumption of its Laureate Series to pay homage to the illustrious Austrian violinist-composer.

As a performing artist, Kreisler (1875-1962) was sidelined twice and rebounded both times. The first was a cataclysm that affected millions, World War I, when the burgeoning virtuoso rendered army service and largely laid the violin aside. 

Tessa Lark exhibits wide range of musical  interests.
But the bulk of his fame lay ahead of him, with a level of concert and recording activity only to be interrupted by a serious traffic accident in New York City in 1941. His recovery from this potentially career-ending mishap gave him a late chance to sustain his reputation. He hadn't many years left, though, and his impact remains centered in the period between those two interruptions.

Performing in the great hall of  Indiana Landmarks on Feb. 23, Tessa Lark, silver medalist in the 2014 IVCI, paid homage to Kreisler with the assistance of Amy Yang.  The concert can be watched online through March 5 via the website. 

The program, which emphasized the lighter side of a spectrum in which Kreisler was at home, had enough weightiness to allow the opportunity to enjoy the expressive and technical range of Lark and her duo partner, pianist Amy Yang.

The expansive Fantasy in C major, D. 934, is one of Schubert's masterpieces for violin and piano, opening with a somber meditation that seems to come from a depth recalling "Winterreise" (a song cycle written in the same year). On balance it's a work of considerable flair and high spirits, though the somber episode is recalled effectively just before the rousing finale. The interplay of violin and piano is relentless, requiring a spirit from both players that needs to seem more spontaneous than relentless as it flashes by.

Lark tells the audience at the outset that she "grew up with" Kreisler's recording of the work. That familiarity is well-represented in this performance. The violinist's lyrical acumen was evident from the start, and the partnership reached a glorious peak in the theme-and-variations Andantino, the third of the interlocking four movements. A more informal piece by Schubert, a ballet Kreisler arranged out of incidental music to "Rosamunde," brought forward Kreisler's affinity for earlier composers, which he indulged in to the extent of applying other composers' names to a variety of his own short works.

The audience is treated to the vivacity of the Lark-Yang rapport from the start, with Bela Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances, an arrangement of six piano pieces. The violinist  carries the tunes forward idiomatically, as the instrument's sound reminds us how much it is at home  in other genres. With her performing interest in bluegrass and jazz, Lark's musical activity outside classical music confirms that breadth and versatility.

Kreisler received the mantle of violin succession from Eugene Ysaye, who dedicated to him the fourth of his six sonatas for solo violin. All those works are well-known to IVCI fans, since the competition's founder, Josef Gingold, an Ysaye student, placed them in the participants' repertoire from 1982 on. Lark played Sonata No. 4 with a fine steadiness of passion and lyricism. Her double-stopping was immaculate, as both simultaneous voices kept focus and integrity. The pacing and textural openness of the Sarabande exuded particular charm.

Joined again by Yang, the violinist concluded the recital with one of the most famous of those gentle hoaxes, Praeludium and Allegro ("in the style of Pugnani"). The dashing recitative-like music between the work's major parts had the right intensity, and the coordination of the players was exemplary. That piece was preceded by Kreisler's "Berceuse romantique," as fetching a lullaby as you might imagine, and his arrangement of Dvorak's "Songs My Mother Taught Me," in which some unobtrusive Kreislerian slides and Lark's rapid, sweet vibrato gave an essential Viennese lilt to the performance.


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