Program Reviews by Valerie

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Peninsula Music Club

IMPRESSIONS OF A VIOLIN VIRTUOSO

I

It is a wild and windy night, almost warm with spring in the air and new blossom flying around like confetti as I arrive to hear “Violin Extreme” the last of four concerts held this year at St Luke’s Grammar Bayview Campus.

 

The programme will comprise spectacularly virtuosic works for violin by the Canadian Alexandre Da Costa with his accompanist French pianist Jeremy Eskenazi. Highly acclaimed worldwide, they will be presenting works from a variety of composers with Alexandre playing a Stradivarius violin made in 1701 that is on loan to him for ten years. How fantastic! An air of expectancy is palpable in the well-filled hall as the two youthful looking musicians appear on stage, dressed in charcoal grey suits with ties to match.

 

They greet us with wide smiles and Alexandre wastes no time with introductions and begins to play the Charconne in G minor by Vitali accompanied by the flying fingers of Jeremy on the keyboard, immediately commanding my attention that will remain unwavering throughout the entire evening. Tomaso Antonio Vitali was the son of Giovanni Battista Vitali, the most illustrious composer in Bologna. Born in 1663 he followed in his father’s footsteps and would probably be almost forgotten but for his Chaconne in G minor which was not published until 1867, a hundred years after his death.

 

This version was arranged by violinist Ferdinand David, but its origins remain questionable and many musicians have queried its authenticity. However, Vitali’s Chaconne has become a popular addition tothe violin repertoire and I thoroughly enjoyed this ancient dance in triple- time, to-night’s first offering.

Carlos Gardel’s Por una cabeza means “Lost by a head” is immediately familiar. Originally with lyrics, it is the story of a gambler who has an addiction to betting on race horses, and compares it with his love of women. Alexandre tells us that the tango, derived from a cultural mixoriginating from the streets of 18th century Buenos Aires inArgentinaand Montevideo, was originally danced only by men and that they danced “exotically, in order to impress the ladies!” His body language changes radically as he rises up and down on his toes when playing the high notes. Another flourishing toe-tapping piece Gypsy Airs follows based on the themes of the Roma people composed by the Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate.

 

For me, there is a sense of deep longing and passion in gypsy music that tugs at my heart strings and I recognise the rhythms of theczárdás, traditional Hungarianfolk dances in this last movement; the theme was previously used inFranz Liszt‘s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13,composed in 1847.The volume and intensity pouring from Alexandre’s Stradivarius violin is extraordinary, totally immersed with his bow ricocheting off the strings I felt he was still in Spain with the gypsies, and when he told us that he had spent many years in Spain and that it was his favourite country – adding wisely “after Australia” – his comment elicits hoots of laughter from the appreciative audience. A lovely glimpse of humour from this fantastic master of music. Manuel de Falla, the Spanish composer, was born in 1876. His most famous work Danse Espagnole was taken from his opera La Vida Breve. The violinist Fritz Kreisler had the foresight to re-write that one section for violin and piano. Spectacular, bright happy music follows evoking many images as the two brilliant musicians give us all they have. The interval is announced and the applause is deafening.

 

*The theme from Steven Spielberg's classic film Schindler's List was composed by John Williams for Itzhak Perlman. Williams is the world’s most successful film composer and I quote the conversation that ensued when Perlman asked him to write the score for the film. "When he showed me Schindler's List," says Williams, "I was so moved I could barely speak. I remember saying to him, “Steven, you need a better composer than I am to do this film.” And he said, “I know, but they're all dead.” This haunting piece with its sad and soaring strings depicts some of the darkest days in the world’s history and mere words cannot begin to describe the depth of feeling the music evokes. In keeping with a conversation between Alexandre and two survivors of Auschwitz, who approached him before one of his concerts to request that the audience not applaud at the end of the piece.

It seemed appropriate that we remain silent for a moment of sober reflection. Johannes Brahms’ warm, sometimes playful and often thunderous chords end this memorable evening. His Violin Sonata No 3. In D minor, Op 108composed between 1886 and 1888 is the last of his three violin sonatas. In four movements, Allegro, Adagio, Un poco presto e con sentiment, Presto agitato.

 

The sonata begins charmingly but I am initially too involved to write notes, I just absorb the magic.The third movement is and I quote; “elegantly scored and flawlessly balanced but of a somewhat mysterious character.” Clara Schumann described it as "like a lovely girl playing with her lover," while it has also been described as being melancholic, even bitter. The last movement, Presto agitato features Jeremy at the keyboard as he leads us towards the turbulent finale with the violin barely heard. As the mighty chords fill the hall and then fade the two virtuosi end with a flourish as the audience rises to its feet with a roar of appreciation.

 

And yes we are given a playful czárdá as an encore. More cheers. Sparkling wine and delicious sandwiches provided by the committee are handed around as members of the audience join the musicians to express their gratitude.

 

Once again it has been a rewarding and memorable night.

 

*The venue for all the Peninsula Music Club concerts is the Hall at St Luke’s Grammar School on the Bayview Campus.

Valerie copyright Sydney November 2019

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