Recital from pianist and concertmaster at Orchestra Wellington’s Saturday concert

Christopher Park – piano (who was soloist in Bartok’s piano concerto No 1 with Orchestra Wellington at the concert in the MFC on 27 October, and Amalia Hall, the orchestra’s concert master
Mozart: Violin Sonata No 17 in C, K 296
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 1 in G, Op 78
Scharwenka: Suite for violin and piano, Op 99

St Andrews on The Terrace

Tuesday October 30, 12:30 pm

The audience at Orchestra Wellington’s Saturday concert in which Christopher Park played Bartok’s piano concerto No 1 was invited to this lunchtime concert, and came along in good numbers (though fewer than for Johannes Moser after the NZSO concert where he’d played Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto); he was joined by the orchestra’s concert master Amalia Hall, a friend, who was apparently instrumental in getting him to New Zealand to play the terrifying Bartok piece.

Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 17 in C major, K. 296, is the first of his fifteen ‘mature’ sonatas; it was composed in 1778, aged 22, in Mannheim when Wolfgang and his mother were on their unhappy journey to Paris (his mother died there, and father Leopold never forgave Wolfgang for his carelessness). It must nevertheless by considered a ‘middle period’ work, since there were 16 earlier ones written in childhood and adolescence.

Few ordinary music lovers would have all of Mozart’s violin sonatas systematically embedded in their minds: there are as many as 36, including several incomplete ones, and the 16 composed in his childhood, which occupy most of the Köchel numbers below 30. This one was familiar to me but no more.

Initially, the piano dominated the violin somewhat, though given the fact that Mozart’s instrumental sonatas were published as for piano (or harpsichord) ‘accompanied by’ the other instrument, the violin’s inferior role in it was hardly conspicuous. Writing for both instruments was sparkling, offering opportunities for technical display and exuberance, with many decorative, flamboyant arpeggios. There’s a contrasting middle section, in contemplative minor key. It was marked by striking originality and character.

The second movement, Andante sostenuto, opens with a rather routine first theme, but continued with a warm, more flowing second melody. It’s probably unfamiliarity with the work that left me with the feeling that the last movement, a Rondeau, was not especially memorable, rather suggesting the tone of Boccherini, though a march-like middle section created a well-balanced composition. In all, the performance by both players captured its characteristics and its distinctly Mozartian virtues with great accomplishment.

Brahms’s first violin sonata was obviously a far more mature work, with emotional and musical qualities to which the two players gave conspicuous attention. Amalia’s playing delighted in the swaying rhythm in the first movement, as well as in the subtle dynamic changes that accompanied the variations of tempo, all encompassed by the instruction Vivace ma non troppo.(mainly ‘non troppo’). Even though the Mozart sonata had singular strengths, given the composer’s age at the time, the elaborateness of Brahms’s composition and the stylistic variety dramatized the way music had evolved in the hundred years (exactly) between the two works. In the Brahms there’s a feeling of sobriety, compositional sophistication and depth that characterised the late Romantic period; it was an interesting case study in the evolution of music. These thoughts were highlighted by the polish and conviction of the playing.

A singular seriousness of purpose colours the second movement and the pair captured its meditative beauty, especially in their handling of the lovely second theme, given richness and warmth with double stopping by the violin and complementary treatment on the piano part.

The last movement is no bold heroic finale, just Allegro molto moderato, emphasis on the ‘Moderato’. was again the opportunity to be touched by her ability to sustain long melodic lines filled with genuine emotion.

Philipp Scharwenka 
The totally unfamiliar piece in the recital was a Suite by Philipp Scharwenka. I had assumed that this was the composer whose name cropped up in old piano albums – the composer of a popular, outwardly impressive Polish Dance, not really all that difficult. But the pianist told me that the latter was by Xaver Scharwenka, the younger brother of the composer of today’s Suite. The two bothers attract similar space in most musical reference books.

Philipp was born in 1847, in the then-Prussian-occupied Poland – the Grand Duchy of Posen (now Poznan). Perhaps they both help fill that empty space in the chronology of German/Austrian composers between Brahms and Mahler, thinly inhabited by Bruch, Humperdinck and ???… – The surname as well as his birth and early life in Polish-majority territory, suggests, like his contemporary Moritz Moszkowski, possible Polish family origins but I find no mention of that.

The four-movement Suite suggested Brahmsian influences (though that would have been almost impossible to avoid in late 19th century Germany, unless a Wagner/Liszt acolyte). Though he avoids the word ‘sonata’ its shape and scale might have invited that description. The first movement, Toccata, passes through an interesting sequence of musical ideas and treatments, often agitated, which suggest a more genuine imagination than a marginally gifted composer might produce, with its several shifts of tempo and mood, a feeling of substance and creative talent. And the performance by the two excellent musicians demanded serious attention, persuading one that a second hearing might bring increased admiration and even pleasure.

The other movements are Ballade, Intermezzo and Recitativ und Tarantella. The Ballade was slower and more contemplative, with touches of attractive melody that even became implanted. The scherzo-like third movement changed the tone again, with a fast cross-string work-out for the violin, leaving a very lively impression that could well have suggested earlier origins, Schumann or even Schubert. And the last movement, after a tentative sort of opening – the Recitative, continued in a comparable, energetic vein, calming for a moment, but soon plunging again into the rapids; it then picked up folk-dance rhythms that became distinctly challenging, especially for the violin, though both instruments were treated to music of very similar interest and demands.

Though I had had no idea what to expect from this piece by a composer unknown to me, well before the end and thanks to a splendidly committed and accomplished performance, I had concluded that this was a most interesting piece and that one should explore more of Philipp Scharwenka’s music.

So this recital of over an hour’s length offered interesting discoveries, performed with great flair and accomplishment.

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