Italian Embassy sponsors fine recital by violin and piano duo

Works for violin and piano by Corelli, Dallapiccola, Paganini, Pärt and Rossini
Duo Gazzana: Natascia Gazzana (violin) and Raffaella Gazzana (piano)

Adam Concert Room, New Zealand School of Music

Wednesday, 20 November 2013, 7:30 pm

A free concert of this standard is a rare event, so it was disappointing that there was not a larger audience to hear the duo perform – or to partake of the excellent pre-concert refreshments provided by the Italian Embassy, who sponsored the hour-long concert.

That said, we do have a plethora of concerts at this time of year, and we do have very fine violinists locally, including Martin Riseley, who introduced the performers and their programme.

Apart from Pärt (no pun intended) the composers were, appropriately, all Italian masters.  We heard some of the foremost names in Italian music history, plus Dallapiccola, whose dates were 1904-1975.   His composition Tartiniana seconda of 1956, listed in Wikipedia as being for violin and orchestra but in Grove for violin, pianoforte or orchestra, gave the title of the concert.

Corelli opened the programme, with his well-known Sonata Op.5 no.12 – ‘La Follia’; a set of variations on what was a well-known tune at the time, and which has been subsequently set by many composers.  The playing of pianist Rafaella was very fine in tone and with clean execution; these were features of her violinist sister’s playing in the main, though sometimes I found the tone a little harsh in the upper register in this piece.  This may have been partly due to reflection off the varnished floor.  The increasingly brilliant and complex variations were expertly handled.  It was a very accomplished performance.

The Dallapiccola work began with the mute on the violin, and much double-stopping (as indeed there was in the Corelli).  The pastoral first movement was followed by a sparkling second movement (Bourée) with notes all over the place in both parts, the violin sans mute.  The third movement featured bird sounds, and was delightfully and skilfully played.  The final movement was a complete contrast, with long brushstrokes on chords, at first for the violin unaccompanied.  After this episode, the mute was added for a gentle, meditative section, followed by the piano alone.  The unumuted violin returned for a slow passage, followed by more slashing chords.  It was a commanding performance of difficult music.

The first Paganini piece, Cantabile e valzer, was the only one played from memory by the violinist.  The smooth and romantic tone of this piece was engaging, and quite different from the style of playing employed for the baroque Corelli.  The variety of timbres, techniques and dynamics made for a charming and appealing performance.  Here, as elsewhere, the occasional violin note was not quite on pitch.

Fratres by Arvo Pärt is much played in many settings and arrangements – too much, to my mind.  However, I have to admit that this was a masterly performance.  The vigorous introduction had the violinist playing all over the strings before the calm passages commenced, with the violin part initially on harmonics.  The violin then embarked on a series of variations, while the piano continued with the theme.  Just when the music became soporific, it broke into loud chords from both instruments.  Harmonics followed deliciously, and the piece ended with light tapping of the strings with the bow.  The piece’s variety was eminently well demonstrated.

Rossini’s Fantasia per violino e pianoforte (originally written for clarinet and piano) became dance-like after a short introduction, Natascia Gazzana almost dancing along with the music.  Then there was a brilliant piano-only section, followed by more variation for both instruments.  A sombre section ensued, then more solo piano led to  flourishing and bright concluding passages that I found somewhat too elongated.

Paganini again: his Sonata in La Maggiore.  A loud, declamatory opening was succeeded by a very melodic section. like a Mendelssohn song.  Variations upon this tune included many techniques: left-hand pizzicato at speed, for example, then very fast finger-work, with the piano simply playing a few chords, then the bow frantically rushing over all the strings, followed by another section of left-hand pizzicato and bowing, to end this astonishing display, and the concert.

The duo featured almost impeccable playing and musicianship, and the players’ absolute rapport, mutual sympathy and timing were impressive.  It was good to hear such first-class performers.


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