Saturday, November 16, 2013

World-Class Talent Tackles Beethoven at “A Little Lunch Music” (Review by Lorna Wood)

Pictured are Boris Abramov and Tzu-yi Chen Performing
at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art on November
14, 2013.
Lorna Wood is a violinist, writer and educator living in Auburn, Alabama. This fall, she attended A Little Lunch Music's presentation of Boris Abramov and Tzu-yi Chen's Beethoven Project. The three-part miniseries covered all ten of Ludwig van Beethoven's violin sonatas. I rolled it out at this link. I asked Lorna to write a review of the performances. Below is what she sent in. Lorna will be performing her own solo recital for Lunch Music this Thursday (11/21).

Abramov and Chen will perform Part III again at Canturbury Court in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 21 at 3:30 pm EST.

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At noon on select Thursdays this past fall, the “A Little Lunch Music” series at the Jule Collins Smith Museum has been privileged to present Boris Abramov, violin, and Tzu-Yi Chen, piano, both international prize winners, in three programs covering all ten of Beethoven’s violin and piano sonatas. Each of these pieces stands as a masterpiece in its own right, with a full range of emotion and drama and technical demands to match. To successfully perform all ten requires exceptional maturity, technical control, and ensemble skills.

Although Abramov and Chen are in their twenties, they proved more than equal to the demands of this complex repertoire. Both possess superb technical skills and a respect for the music that has led to a careful working out of each passage and its place in the work as a whole.

Particularly remarkable was the ensemble in the many rapid and rhythmically intricate passages where violin and piano play at the same time. Without sacrificing tempo a bit, the pair not only played the notes precisely together, but also phrased together, so that despite the differences between the two instruments, they united in unfolding Beethoven’s musical ideas. This effect was possible because of Abramov’s precise intonation and powerful sound, and the delicacy of Chen’s touch, which created a clear, nuanced tone that almost never overwhelmed the violin, despite the inherent difficulties of balancing the two instruments.

Masterful execution of stormier passages set off the more lyrical ones, but the contrast was further enhanced by the variety in their tone. Abramov’s carefully considered placement of the bow between bridge and fingerboard gave him a broad range of sound from brilliant to gossamer light, while Chen admirably overcame the piano’s inherent resistance to legato, creating flowing melodies that rivaled the violin’s line. Voicing was also well executed in the piano, as the melody always emerged from the texture, while accompanying voices were kept subordinate, maintaining balance with the violin.

Most impressive, however, was the overall sense that both of these fine musicians had thought through the architecture of each piece, and indeed of all ten sonatas as a whole, and thought it through together. Clearly much communication occurred both onstage and in rehearsal to give each section the appropriate character, to deliver it as an ensemble, and to convey the structure of each work clearly to the audience. This seemed especially true in the first concert, where the massive, stormy Sonatas 1, 7, and 9 (the “Kreutzer”) were lucidly conveyed with precise ensemble and a shared concept of the role of each passage in developing the whole work, but Abramov and Chen delivered the sunny lyricism of the “Spring Sonata,” for example, with equal conviction.

Is there more to be done? Of course playing these sonatas, like re-reading great novels, is an ongoing project of discovery. In an interview after the concerts, Chen expressed how much ensemble playing has added to her understanding of music as a collaborative activity, for even a solo pianist must collaborate in the sense of melding her ideas with the composer’s as much as possible. Both performers look forward to working out their shared interpretation of these sonatas further in future, and, they hope, collaborating on new ventures as well.

It was heartening to see more and more people at each of these performers’ three concerts. I cannot wait for more, and I hope that the Auburn community will be equally elated by the opportunity to hear these world-class players interpreting musical masterpieces.

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Lorna Wood is a violinist and writer who has taught violin and viola in Auburn since 1994. She is concertmaster of the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra and the Auburn Community Orchestra and is a member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Her students have gone on to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, the University of Michigan, and Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, among others. Lorna holds a Ph.D. in English from Yale University and has published articles on children’s literature and the American Renaissance, as well as poetry in Untitled, with Passengers. She is a reader for Gemini Magazine.  

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