Lunchtime at St Andrew’s: Mozart Trio, Strauss Violin Sonata

Mozart: Trio in E flat, K 498 (‘Kegelstatt’) with violin in place of clarinet; Violin Sonata in E flat, Op 18 (Strauss)

Cristina Vaszilcsin (violin), Peter Garrity (viola), Catherine McKay (piano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace, Wednesday 25 November 2009   

These three players have been tantalizing us with Strauss’s youthful, highly coloured violin sonata, with performances of just the first two movements (at Paekakariki) and of the Improvisation movement alone (at the Friends of the NZSO concert a week earlier); I’d heard both. Here at last we heard the whole thing, though it was not without its curiosity even here.

As the players prepared to start the second movement (Improvisation), Cristina dashed off to get her mute; she then played her first two notes – alone; Catherine got up from the piano and went out and when she didn’t come straight back Cristina left too. Time passed.  Concert organizer Marjan Waardenberg went out too and we waited; one or two people left, but the first movement had been so compelling that almost all remained seated, hopefully.  A good five minutes later they all returned and calmly began the second movement.

Catherine had had a nose-bleed.

It was the energy and rapport displayed by these two players that was striking; one sensed a strong shared commitment to and sympathy for the sonata which is an early work, written aged about 23, and not universally admired; it is given to exploiting both Strauss’s fecund compositional gifts, a romantic imagination fed by a growing admiration for the aesthetic of Wagner and Liszt; I found it curious that I was here and there reminded of Franck’s sonata, even though Strauss could hardly have known it since it was written only a year earlier.

Even though marked Andante, the first movement creates a passionate impression that belies the actual underlying tempo, and it was this impulse and thrust that animated the performance most strongly. The second movement suffered not the least from the pianist’s brief ailment; in fact it was as if the problem inspired an even more rhapsodic, expansive performance, filled with graceful phrasing and ecstatic piano filigree supporting the violin’s more legato lines.

The third movement was the place for even more highly romantic effects, endless scales and decorative arpeggios played as if they were much more than flashy gestures, then a middle section where the violin became playful in a perfectly wholehearted way. There was always the sense of impassioned momentum that sustained a constant awareness of the larger picture.

They had begun the concert with Mozart’s wonderful clarinet trio, with the clarinet replaced by Vaszilcsin’s violin. Not only did the violin quite seduce me with a feeling that this might well have really been the sound Mozart had in mind, so natural and gorgeous was it, but the different environment also lent the viola greater distinction than it had, at least in the traditional sounds lodged in my mind, alongside the clarinet.

In the Rondeaux allegretto (last movement) the violin’s summery joy and warmth led to a feeling of deep, if very histrionic, soulfulness which the viola reflected in its lovely duo with piano in the middle section. I am given to exclaiming about performances that are unlikely to be excelled this year, but this was such a performance, of two wonderful works that are too rarely heard.


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