VIOLIN & PIANO RECITAL
Qian Zhou, Violin
Bernard Lanskey, Piano
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
24 August 2013)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 26 August 2013 with the title "Roaring approval for violin & piano"
If you are a student, it is vicarious thrill to see your professors and heads of departments attempting to practise what they preach. This recital by Qian Zhou and Bernard Lanskey, Head of Strings and Conservatory Director respectively, was postponed from its original Singapore Chamber Festival date in February because of an arm injury to the violinist. Better late than never, as they say.
As it turned out, the concert was a masterclass on the art of singing. The two major sonatas were incidentally in A major, dominating each half of the evening. Beethoven’s Sonata (Op.30 No.1) began not with a big statement that the composer was wont to do, but quietly with much of the focus on the flowing piano part. Similarly, pianist Lanskey was given first chance to present the main themes in the first movement of Brahms’s Second Sonata (Op.100).
With both, he brought out the music’s arch-lyricism, over which Qian’s violin also sang with a mellifluous quality. The balance was close to perfect, and that is the essence of chamber music, with give and take on either side. The virtuosity on show was not just externally displayed on the surface, but one that was deeper and more instinctually felt.
Wie Melodien Zieht Es (Like Melodies It Moves) was the Brahms song quoted in the sonata, and that seemed to epitomise the performances of both sublime sonatas. For contrasts, the Theme and Variations that was the finale in the Beethoven and the scherzo-like central section of the Brahms slow movement provided the more lively moments.
Debussy’s late and relatively brief Violin Sonata in G minor was another elusive masterpiece, but the duo got to its heart. Its introspective quality was captured not by showy gestures but nuances expressed under the voice. The sensuous string sound, sharp pizzicatos that piqued the ear and the piano’s shimmering textures brought a stirring allure to the music.
Two lesser known pieces closed each half. Eugene Ysaye’s Poeme Elegiaque deserves to be better known, because the gradual build-up to its rapturous, white-hot climax matches the best of Franck and Chausson’s more popular violin works. A brooding beginning later finding consummation in throes of ecstasy was also present in Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s Pampeana No.1, a rhapsody of the grasslands or pampas.
While singing occupied the initial section, all stops were pulled for the rip-roaring close in the gauchos’ wild dance, which Qian and Lanskey delivered with dizzying panache. The large and attentive audience roared its approval, and was rewarded with a most delightful encore, a Tango by the legendary Jewish-American violin virtuoso Mischa Elman. The many students present would have been proud to pronounce, “Those two were my teachers.”