Eyal Kless (violin)
with Catherine McKay (piano)
and Vesa-Matti Leppanen (violin)
Mozart Sonata in B flat for piano & violin KV 378
Prokofiev – Sonata for 2 Violins in C Major Op.56
Grieg Sonata No. 3 in C minor for piano & violin Op. 45
Aleksey Igudesman – The Crazy Bride
St Andrew’s on the Terrace
Friday 9th July 2010
Wellington’s lunchtime concert enthusiasts were given a real treat by visiting Israeli violinist Eyal Kless, who combined forces with both pianist Catherine McKay and fellow-violinist Vesa-Matti Leppanen for what seemed almost like an impromptu and all but unheralded concert, one which certainly deserved more advocacy that it actually received. With sterling support from both his partners throughout the concert, Eyal Kless readily demonstrated the qualities suggested by the snippets of publicity which came my way – “a dynamic and versatile musician” for example – and gave his audience a real sense of his “rich recital and chamber music career”, which involves performing in many places around the world. Eyal currently teaches in Manchester and in Tel Aviv, and besides concerts he gives lectures and masterclasses involving such diverse topics as stage-fright, as well as violin technique. He’s also a sought-after jurist for various international competitions.
The varied programme began with a Mozart Sonata for Violin and Piano KV 378, a work of richly-wrought textures and and wonderfully interactive detailings. Pianist Catherine McKay’s expressively nuanced playing of the very opening of the work drew a like response from the violinist, and cast an aura of contentment over the listening spaces, both musicians relishing their opportunities to fully explore the music’s strength and subtle elasticity. For our pleasure (and presumably for their own) the musicians observed the first-movement repeat, after which there was tension and excitement aplenty generated by the development’s minor-key mood, with the pianist’s forthright attack during the great outbursts matched by the violinist’s equally-focused playing. After this, the recapitulation of the sonata’s opening measures brought from both instruments rich and glowing B-flat colourings to the final bars.
Although the piano seemed at first to take the melodic lead in the slow movement, the violin judiciously added a countervoice, sometimes a simple sustained note colouring the phrase. Then it was the violin’s turn with the second subject, very operatic in effect, with a beautifully flowing accompaniment from the piano, both of the instrumentalists through all of this registering and delivering the music’s ebb and flow. The finale wasn’t at all rushed, the players pointing the rhythms nicely to keep the momentum going, but generating a lot of “schwung” in the minor-key episode. Some fairy-light triplet-playing scampered deftly to the treble-tops before returning the music to the rondo-theme with a nice “rounded-off” sense of homecoming.
Vesa-Matti Leppanen then joined Eyal Kless for a performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata for 2 Violins, written by the composer in 1932, and described by Prokofiev’s son Sviatoslav as “lyrical, playful, fantastic and violent, in turn”. The players brought out the music’s exploratory, improvisatory character at the beginning, the harmonies very bittersweet, and the lines in places ethereal and stratospheric, happily with Eyal Kless’s playing in particular fully up to the challenge. Both musicians dug into the pungent rgencies of the second movement, dovetailing their lines skilfully, and enjoying the canonic interplay throughout a trio-like section of the music. The third movement’s graceful, “other-worldly’ melancholy provided a telling contrast with the dance-like opening of the finale, with its rapid-fire exchanges between the players – if intonation occasionally slipped under pressure, such as during parts of the “whirling dervish” conclusion, it mattered not a whit to the spirit of the dance.
Violinist and pianist rejoined forces for a performance of Grieg’s C Minor Sonata which certainly flung down the gauntlet at the opening with passionate, full-blooded utterances, even if I imagined those melismatic phrases at the beginning sounding somewhat earthier, with stronger, more “dug-in” articulation. Throughout, the music’s episodes of great agitation were contrasted well with moments of wonderful stasis, the performers having the ability to “fuse” both the lyrical and dramatic moments into a coherent shape. The composer’s characteristically piquant harmonic shifts were again evident at the slow movement’s piano-opening, here beautifully played by Catherine McKay and richly rejoined by her violinist-partner. They captured the gypsy-volatility of the music’s middle section, before delivering the big tune’s reprise with melting sweetness, and a burst of great emotion throughout the double-stopped octave violin passage almost at the end, the violinist unfortunately besmirching his final note in some way and looking annoyed with himself as a result!
The concert concluded with another violin duo work, Kless joining forces once again with Vesa-Matti Leppanen to bring an entertaining piece of almost music-theatre to life, a work by Aleksey Igudesman called The Crazy Bride. The music worked in tandem with a number of racy spoken descriptions by Kless of a Jewish wedding at which the people and events are somewhat larger-than-life! Consequently, there was never a dull or drab moment, the music seeming to delineate a run of events where crisis followed crisis (I’m told, however, that weddings tend to bring out extremes of whatever in people), the whole akin to having a dramatised wall-to-wall sequence of Monteverdi’s most emotionally candid madrigals. Kless and Leppanen enjoyed themselves hugely and conveyed such a strongly-flavoured sense of occasion that the archetypal characters in the scenario came to life before our eyes. Even though most of the audience was probably outside the tradition looking in, what seemed like the “Jewishness” of it all, music, movement, gesture and feeling was conveyed with strength, vigour, humour and ultimately, affection. Best of all I liked the Wedding Dance, with its gradual accelerando style set against an emotion-laden middle section whose poise and depth of feeling spoke volumes amid all the hilarity and showmanship.