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Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Players reveal the music’s charms and beauties with great skill and insight. (Review by Michael Green)

Two young virtuoso performers presented a programme well off the beaten track when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The German-Japanese violinist Mirijam Contzen and the American pianist Bryan Wallick have in recent years established, independently, big international reputations, and they offered a connoisseur’s concert to an enthusiastic audience. They are both tall and slender, and they make an interesting contrast in styles. She has an uninhibited, joyful, flamboyant approach to playing the violin. He is an upright, rather restrained figure at the keyboard, but with hands and fingers that meet every challenge of the music.

The four items on the programme would, I think have been unfamiliar to many of the listeners, and the players revealed the music’s charms and beauties with great skill and insight.

They opened with Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F major, a work that testifies to the fluent melodic gifts of this composer (who was, incidentally, Queen Victoria’s favourite composer). After a period of relative neglect, Mendelssohn seems to be gaining in critical esteem these days, and rightly so. This sonata, written in 1838, remained unpublished for more than a hundred years until the violinist Yehudi Menuhin revived it in 1952. It is a delightful work, cheerful, positive, effervescent, and the players extracted full value from it.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata is a late work, completed in 1917, only a year before the composer’s death from cancer at the age of 55. It has been criticised as being rather sterile, the work of a fatigued and dying man, but it has much of interest, especially in the eloquent slow movement.

Schumann’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 121, is another late work, dating from 1851 (the composer died in 1856, in a mental home). It is tuneful and expertly laid out for both instruments. I liked best the third movement, a set of gracious variations based on a pizzicato theme introduced by the violin.

Finally we were given a brilliant account of Ravel’s Tzigane, an unusual and successful essay in Hungarian gypsy music by this essentially French composer. Mirijam Contzen had ample opportunity to display her abilities in the long solo passage at the beginning and she did so triumphantly.

There was an encore: the Melodie (Dance of the Blessed Spirits) from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, written in 1762. It came like a draught of cool spring water. - Michael Green

FOM acknowledges the support of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.