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Talented duo extend themselves in service of great music
February 4th, 2009
By Father Basil De Pinto

There have been fine performances already this season and there will be more, but there will hardly be a more satisfying one than the recital by Christian Tetzlaff, violinist, and Leif Ove Andsnes, pianist, given on Jan. 27 under the auspices of San Francisco Performances.

These extraordinary artists have appeared here before, together and singly, and they never disappoint.

It is highly significant that each of them has a distinguished solo career because when they appear together their teamwork is stunningly seamless and devoid of ego. Tetzlaff is the more physically active as he plays, although his movements are never distracting. Ove Andsnes is quieter but constantly on the alert and sensitive in his role as equal partner. Neither tries to outshine the other, and the composers they serve are the true stars of the evening. But in the event it’s clear what enormous talent each of them possesses. So - on to the excellent interpretations of the works they presented.

They began with Janacek’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano.” How did we ignore for so long the magnificent achievement of the great Czech master? Only in the second half of the 20th century, and largely through the efforts of British conductor Charles Mackerras, did he begin to be widely known. This sonata, largely still unfamiliar, speaks yet again of the originality and creativity of a composer who continues to astonish audiences.

The piece dates from 1914 when the composer entered his final and amazingly fruitful last years of life. Its distinctly modern sound maintains its roots in classical harmony, and the two interpreters exhibited their clear conception of Janacek’s embrace of different musical worlds. The spiky, percussive opening movement gives way to a lusciously lyrical Ballada and a conventional scherzo, finally concluding with a slow movement, just to keep you guessing. And yet there is no trickery here, just the evidence of an amazingly fertile musical imagination.

After that eye-opening start one might expect the rest to be anti-climactic. The best was yet to come. Before intermission there was the Brahms D minor sonata and after it the Mozart F major. Brahms, ever the symphonist, casts his work in four movements, while Mozart sticks to the standard fast-slow-fast formula. But both works betray the composers’ common passion for the piano. His personal proficiency as a pianist could lead Brahms to relegate the violin to a subordinate role. But he was able to overcome that in this work, so that the violin is not subdued and the piano dominant; there is an admirable fusion of both instruments.

True, the feeling of large, expansive life seems to spring from the keyboard, but the violin joins it willingly, casting its own particular glow over the proceedings. This was illustrated most beautifully in the Adagio, where the performing team used their extraordinary sensitivity to produce a fully integrated and balanced reading. The Mozart revealed the enthusiasm of the composer just arrived in Vienna and reveling in a new lease on life.

The program concluded with the “Rondo Brillant”of Schubert. To say that this piece gave the players the opportunity to showcase their virtuosity in no way deflects from their musical integrity. The demands of the piece call for large-scale talent and this pair have that in spades. But the ease with which they displayed it allowed them and the audience to have great fun while the artists continued to extend themselves in the service of great music.

The large and enthusiastic audience made their pleasure known by sustained applause which indicated anticipation of another visit very soon.

Father Basil De Pinto is a frequent contributor on the arts scene.

From February 6, 2009 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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