The penultimate concert of the 2004 Niagara International Chamber Music Festival was as varied in offerings as it was in outcomes. Any concert featuring veteran virtuoso Zvi Zeitlin is an event to look forward to and, in large measure, the consummate violinist did not disappoint the large crowd. Fortunately, many students were also on hand, learning by osmosis and example from their gifted mentor.
If the program had closed down after the Grieg sonata, there would not have been an unsatisfied music-lover in the room. Reminiscent of the Singapore International Piano Festival (cross-references below), it was too much to expect the same level of artistry and emotion to last “forever.”
Together with his formidable accompanist Nina Kogan, Zeitlin soared through the Grieg like a man possessed. The opening “Allegro” flew off the pages with magnificent style, drama and glove-fitting teamwork. Commitment to the music ruled, making the occasional overpowering keyboard or few bits of just-under pitch seem more like specious quibbles than real complaints.
Kogan’s first statement in the “Romanza” was wonderfully restrained and thoughtful, revelling in the harmonic subtleties—a lost art in itself in modern concert life. Zeitlin added yet another layer of emotional truth as he pulled the haunting them from his instrument, effortlessly sending it to every corner of the sanctuary. The Gypsy-like middle section, with its guitar pizzicatos was the perfect foil to all that came before; the return slipped back easily; the ethereal last measure won’t be forgotten soon.
The “Allegro animato” sizzled from stem to stern, its orchestral hues belying the fact that just two musicians were plumbing the depths. Performances such as these remind us all why CDs will never replace “being there.”
Fellow Norwegian, Ole Bull’s slight Romanza followed. Apparently performed in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1866, its saccharine tune and harmonic buffet couldn’t compete with the integrity of the Sonata and, hopefully, will be banished forever to the deepest fjord!
After the break, artistic director Atis Bankas shared the spotlight with Zeitlin for an energetic, if occasionally frantic, performance of Bach’s D Minor Concerto. The “Largo” fared best where the soloists effortlessly interweaved their lines, inspiring their colleagues to do likewise and just let the music speak.
Finally, the seldom-heard Schubert Rondo seemed a happy tonic to finish the night. Zeitlin led the wee band on a merry chase, daring them to match his tone, technique and savvy understanding. They did their best, providing many moments of fun and joy, but the old phrase “he’s a hard act to follow” took on new meaning as the “Allegro Giusto” raced to its conclusion. JWR