Caprices Nos 16 and 20 by Paganini – played by Irina Andreeva (viola)
Scherzo (by Brahms) from the FAE Sonata; and the third movement from Brahms’s Violin Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 108 – played by Joanna Lee (violin) and Jian Liu (piano)
Violin Sonata No 8 in G, Op 30 No 3 by Beethoven – played by Jun He (violin) and Jian Liu (piano)
St Andrew’s on the Terrace
Wednesday 4 May, 12.15pm
The St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts are in the midst of their series of performances by students at the New Zealand School of Music.
This one featured three – a violist and two violinists, accompanied by Jian Liu, the school’s piano faculty member for the next two years. He studied with Claude Frank at Yale where he is completing a doctorate in musical arts. As well as teaching and accompanying students, he will shortly give concerts of his own.
The Paganini Caprices on a viola was certainly a surprise to the ears; Irina Andreeva (also a DMA student) has been inspired by the voila versions of the Caprices that William Primrose created (Primrose, after Lionel Tertis, was the father of the modern awakening to the viola as a solo instrument). No 16 lay for long stretches on the C string, allowing no suggestion of its violin origin. I am highly attracted to the viola and so the two Caprices, offering strong contrast, were most diverting, even if, especially in No 20, a bit flawed in intonation and articulation. But Andreeva’s warm musicality and rhythmic vitality compensated for some lack of light and shade.
Joanna Lee comes here after study at McGill in Montreal where she has been specializing in Brahms. So it was no surprise to hear such confident and polished performances of these two pieces from opposite ends of Brahms’s career.
The FAE Sonata (‘Frei aber einsam’ – free but alone, intended as a tribute to violinist Joseph Joachim) was a 1853 collaboration between Brahms aged 20, Schumann just before his mental collapse and the forgotten Albert Dietrich, who wrote the sonata’s long first movement. Schumann wrote the slow movement and the Finale. The Scherzo is from Brahms, already so characteristic, and Joanna Lee played it with a firmness and maturity that indeed demonstrated an intuitive instinct for Brahms.
There was time for only one of the two movements scheduled from the (four movements of the) third violin sonata – the scherzo – Un poco presto e con sentimento. However, it is a substantial piece and was a highly convincing demonstration of a major talent. Again the two players found a singular rapport, with careful placing of emphatic notes and violin chords, all its impulsiveness managed in flawless ensemble.
The third of Beethoven’s Op 30 set of violin sonatas is the shortest of the three and was a delightful choice for a lunchtime concert. As well as again showcasing an admirable piano part, it gave violinist Jun He the opportunity to explore the very distinct moods of this sonata: calm sanguinity in the first movement, joyfulness in the last, but a menuetto in the middle that is profoundly meditative and lyrical, heart-easing (to use an old-fashioned expression).
Jun He is another recent arrival at the School of Music, originally from China, having studied at various universities and academies; she is here to complete a doctorate in musical arts. She took great care with dynamics and exercised beautiful control of the discreet ornaments, with the two instruments in perfect sympathy. Though given no invitation by the music for display or histrionics, the two players created a poised, modest, warm-hearted partnership. There can be few so un-dancing minuets as this; eager dancers would have been stilled by the beauty of the music and, in this instance, its performance.
The last movement was simple joy, the violin articulated so softly, with exquisite ppp sounds from the piano, which even at the odd fortissimo never clouded the violin or generated any percussiveness. And the witty modulation to E flat near the end dramatically altered the colouring.
Though this was the only ‘entire’ piece in the programme the whole could be enjoyed at a level far above the average ‘student’ performance.