Hearty lunchtime fare at St.Andrew’s with Beethoven and Gershwin

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
BEETHOVEN – Kreutzer Sonata (Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major Op.47)
GERSHWIN (arr. Heifetz) Summertime / It Ain’t Necessarily So (from “Porgy and Bess”)

Carolyn van Leuven (violin)
Catherine Norton (piano)

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace

Wednesday 28th March, 2018

Guest reviewer – Christina Wells

Wednesday’s lunchtime saw a good crowd at St. Andrew’s Church, all looking forward to hearing a performance of the superlative “Kreutzer” Sonata by Beethoven, for violin and piano. We were warned at the outset by violinist Caroline van Leuven that it was “vigorous stuff” and that we were to “hold onto” our hats!

The sonata was delivered with plenty of fire from the violinist and matched in spunk and spirit by pianist Catherine Norton. From the opening strings’ double-stopping, answered by the piano, the expectancy was created, and then the tentativeness shaken off – and so we were away!

In places it was a bit of a rough-round-the-edges ride, with the violin’s intonation not always completely secure, especially in the instrument’s upper reaches – nevertheless this was more than made up for in intensity and physicality of expression. We heard various instances of rapt stillness in places in the first movement, the ghostly withdrawn passages coming off with a particular depth of feeling – and at the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed the stylish elan of the pizzicato playing to match the showy piano displays. Overall the violin part was resplendently delivered and caught the spirit of the piece, while Catherine Norton’s playing was strong and sensitive by turns throughout, delivering cascades of sound and colour.

The piano-only introduction to the second movement was notable for the care with which every note was sculptured and “placed” by Norton, the phrasing strongly-focused and sensitively shaped. This introduction formed the basis for a set of variations to follow. The first was playful, while the second featured a quirky jog-trot rhythm, each rendition, while not entirely tidily delivered, giving pleasure in its characterisation. Then came a lovely variation in a minor key with beautifully weighted question-and- answer exchanges. Both pianist and violinist exhibited a winsome feeling for the thoughtful mood of the sequence, giving us in places some singing tones and beautifully-sustained sounds.

The violinist was occasionally challenged by the difficulty of the rapid figurations in other places, but sustained the grander moments with conviction, aided by the steadfastness of her partner. Beethoven’s volatile invention took us from jollity to playfulness through wonderment and deep sonority. With such roistering physicality created by the players’ exchanges, this became a true partnership sonata.

The third and last movement carried this style forward, with scampering violin passage work matched by demanding, deftly-played piano figurations. Phrase was answered by phrase, with a whole world of expression created by the composer, here sensitive and suggestive, and in other places bold and boisterous. We marvelled at the energy and drive of it all, the thrills and spills of the execution matched by the obvious impression that the performers “knew how the music should go”. It felt like a true achievement, and the audience responded with enthusiasm and approval when all was done.

The Gershwin was a change of pace entirely, the first piece “Summertime” delivered with a suggestive and ladened style of a blues violinist. The playing was sultry, languid and expansive, and took the instrumentalists’ sounds into entirely new regions. Catherine Norton’s accompaniment was suitably slow-breathed and patiently controlled, in tandem with her partner.

“It Ain’t Necessarily So” was also delivered with plenty of awareness of the original’s atmosphere and context. Sleazy and insinuating at first, the music caught us up in the rapid-fire middle section. here delivered with plenty of volatility. Both musicians seemed to occasionally have to jump through hoops in their pursuit of the transcriptions’ Janus-faced depictions of both messenger and message, but each carried it off right to the end.

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