Concert life has its ups and downs: most often the music is presented with care, love and diligence by its performers; occasionally the works are stillborn, not yet ready for public consumption; rarely, the elements and artists combine in such a homogeneous manner that the notes are but mere props to the swath of deep emotions and compelling thoughts that lurk tantalizingly between the lines of our finest composers—too often smothered by flash and fire or shameless vanity.
Russian-born violinist, Zvi Zeitlin treated the capacity crowd to the highest level of music making of this festival with his spectacular reading of Schumann’s D Minor Sonata, transcending the heat, the uneven piano and imperfect acoustics of the Courthouse Theatre. His impassioned artistry was evident from the first phrase and the apparent ease with which he drew such consistently supple and subtle tones from his instrument—using every centimetre of his bow—should be both an inspiration and goal for the many students present.
He let the music lead, rather than planning his approach by what would “work best” for the violin. Like his frequent collaborator, the great Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik, Zeitlin is prepared to take risks, which often results in slightly suspect pitch or momentary loss of ensemble, but matters not when these insignificant blemishes allow the too often hidden musical subtext to rise to the surface.
Nina Kogan was his sympathetic partner. She couldn’t quite keep up to the violinist’s merry chase in the final agitato but otherwise provided sensitive support.
As the pair were rewarded with cheers and hearty applause, it occurred to me that Zeitlin’s white towel (used to lessen the decades of pressure from his chin rest) was a tellingly symbol of his ability to surrender to the music. Merci mille fois.
Christopher Newton was the evening’s affable host, ably standing in for Shaw and sharing his wit, wisdom and baldly opinionated reviews of composers contemporary to his time. Fortunately, critics have long since ceased this outrageous practice of saying what they think! But we can agree to disagree: Shaw “Schumann could not have written ten bars of an Elgar Symphony.” Wegg “And we should be forever thankful for that!”
The program began with a sturdy reading of the Rubenstein Sonata. Atis Bankas employed his considerable skills to great advantage. Making child’s play out of the slight essay’s numerous technical demands and shaping its phrases with his sweet—never saccharine—tone. Pianist Anya Alexeyev never faltered; between the two of them we were given a performance that made the music sound better than it is.
Mendelssohn’s D Minor Piano Trio was rendered in a warmly exuberant fashion. Zeitlin led the way and his interplay with cellist Tom Mueller (fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from such an experienced artist) was first rate. Pianist Tamara Mchedlischvili fared well in the early going but couldn’t control the thousands of speedy notes making the Finale exciting, but for reasons foreign to its composer. JWR