Wellington Chamber Music presents
THE MENZIES/ENDRES DUO – Music by Schubert, Schnittke, Fisher and Beethoven
FRANZ SCHUBERT – Rondo in B Minor “Rondo Brilliant”
ALFRED SCHNITTKE – Violin Sonata No. 2 (quasi una sonata)
SALINA FISHER – Mono no aware
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN – Violin Sonata No. 9 “Kreutzer”
Mark Menzies (violin) and Michael Endres (piano)
Sunday, 18th June, 2023
This was a well structured, interesting programme, culminating in Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, perhaps the greatest of violin sonatas. The programme notes the connection of the works on the programme to this Sonata and Beethoven: the main theme of Schubert’s Rondo has reference to the first movement of the Kreutzer Sonata, while Schnittke’s Sonata echoes the structure of Beethoven’s Op 27 piano sonatas, “quasi una fantasia”. This may be a little far fetched, but undoubtedly the programme built up to the climax of Beethoven, while exploring a range of musical idioms in the violin and piano repertoire.
Franz Schubert Rondo in B minor ‘Rondo Brilliant’
Schubert wrote this work for the Czech violinist Josef Slavik. The latter was compared in his circles to Paganini, and was a friend of Schubert. Schubert was essentially a composer of songs, not one noted for the elaborate structures of his works. This piece has beautiful melodic passages interposed with virtuoso displays. It is joyful music, with suggestions of rustic wind band music in places, but ultimately it was not an entirely convincing reading, being very difficult to bring off. In the dialogues between the violin and the piano, some of the nuances of the exchamges were lost. The placing of the violinist with his back to the pianist didn’t help in places, with the voicings not being ideally balanced.
Alfred Schnittke Violin Sonata No 2 (quasi una sonata)
Schnittke’s Second Violin Sonata is a very challenging work, both for the musicians and the audience. It opens with powerful, discordant chords, separated by precisely timed pauses. This section is followed by a number of distinct episodes, with references to past musicians, from Bach through Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky, to Shostakovitch, though to the listener, hearing the sonata for the first time, none of this is obvious. What is clear is the unrelenting drama, the thought provoking process that pose questions about the nature of music. The musicians have to perform actions that are not part of the normal skill sets of violinists or pianists, free ranging glissandos, unpitched tremolos, drum-like chords.
To add to the drama, one of the strings snapped on the violin. Mark Menzies stopped, walked off the stage, came back with the violin re-strung, carried on, and resumed where had left off. This sonata is one of the masterpieces of the post-Soviet Russian era, but it requires vast preparation and deep understanding. The performance was a true partnership between violin and piano, and whatever misgivings one might have had about the balance of the two instruments in the first work no longer applied.
Salina Fisher Mono no aware
This was a peaceful contrast to the drama of Schnittke’s work. It is a calm ethereal piece of music, simple on the surface, plaintive, a meditation on nature. Is it about the ephemeral beauty of cherry blossoms, an awareness of their fragility and their inherent impermanence, as the composer says in her notes, or is it just a sequel of lovely sounds? It was a “breather” in the midst of an afternoon of intense music.
Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata No 9 ‘Kreutzer’
This is, arguable, the greatest violin and piano sonata ever written. It marked the beginning of what is at times termed, Beethoven’s ‘middle period’, beyond the elegant music of the period of Mozart and Haydn, pointing to an era of more expressive, more emotional, romantic music of the years of his Third and Fifth Symphonies. Beethoven had gone deaf, his life was in turmoil, and he wrote some of his most profound music. The Kreutzer foreshadowed the Waldsdtein and Appassionata sonatas, the Rasumovsky quartets. The sonata is so well known that it is a special challenge for performers not to make it just another Kreutzer, to fathom its meaning in their own individual way. Menzies and Endres started with a leisurely opening, flexible, lyrical. They brought out the grandeur and lyricism of the piece, playing it with a nice, controlled tempo. They had a grand conception of the work, bringing out its sublime beauty, particularly in the second, variation movement, with each variation sensitively articulated. The final movement was played with measured energy. It was a very fine performance and both players appeared to share its enjoyment.
For an encore they returned to Schubert with an arrangement of Schubert’s Hark! Hark! The Lark!
This Sunday afternoon concert was notable for its range, the thought-provoking questions it raised about music. No one went home whistling the tunes from the Schnittke Sonata, or even Salina Fisher’s piece, but everybody left on a high note after the Beethoven.
Both artists, Mark Menzies and Michael Endres, teach at Canterbury University. They both have established international careers. Mark Menzies taught at the California Institute of the Arts, and gave violin and viola recitals in Los Angeles. He is an advocate of contemporary music, and tours widely.
Michael Endres performs worldwide as soloist and chamber music partner. He has played at festivals in Europe, America, and Asia, including the Beethoven Fest Bonn and the Salzburg Festival.
We are fortunate to have them here in New Zealand.