Joyce Yang, piano; Augustin Hadelich, violin; Works by Schumann, Janacek, Ravel, Takemitsu, and Previn, Chan Centre, February 24, 2013.

Augustin Hadelich, violin

Augustin Hadelich, violin

When a music lover first discovers the many compositions for violin and piano together, it is often presumed that the violin is dominant and the piano is a mere accompanist. Recordings have helped foster this idea by often balancing the violin far forward, especially when a ‘star’ soloist is involved. Yet the idea of an equal partnership in such collaborations has been well established from the early 19th C.  Beethoven in fact entitled his so-called violin sonatas as ‘Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violin’, not the other way round.

Joyce Yang, piano

Korean/ American pianist Joyce Yang and Italian/American violinist Augustin Hadelich are both accomplished soloists in their own right. On this occasion, they also served as a sterling example of an equal musical partnership, selflessly interacting to bring out each other’s strongest qualities. Many have remarked on Hadelich’s ‘gorgeous tone’, wonderfully pure indeed, but equally impressive is the fluency and seamless flow of his line, almost as if the stresses of bowing technique did not exist. He can open out passionately into a long phrase, then pull back quickly into more intimate expression without any changing of gears whatsoever. Joyce Yang may be less mercurial than this but her beautifully firm tone, subtle shading and structural control provides a true musical voice in its own right and an anchor for the work as a whole. 

Schumann’s First Violin Sonata (1851) is an endearing composition that often seems to suggest a young composer full of life and romantic yearning. The problem is that it is actually a composition of Schumann’s dismal last years, and was largely dismissed by traditional critics (along with his Violin Concerto) as a result of declining mental powers. Of the legendary violinists, seemingly only Adolph Busch would play it. Recently, there have been more recordings, ranging from robust, ultra-passionate interpretations to ones such as Anthony Marwood (on Hyperion) that suggest a more morbid and emotionally-fragile demeanor. Yang and Hadelich chose something in between. Their unhurried pace allowed the violinist to really push into the yearning passages in the opening movement yet the pianist would always take them back to Schumann’s more introspective world through beautifully controlled soft playing. The consistent alternation of these two moods gave this movement an almost symphonic strength. The Allegretto in turn unfolded very thoughtfully, while the treatment of the agitated finale mirrored the pace of the first movement, though here a faster tempo might have been desirable.

The same balance between the impassioned and the introspective carried over successfully to the interpretation of Leos Janacek’s Violin Sonata (1914), another work that was played infrequently for many years and has been ‘rediscovered’ in the last 25 years. The artists were able to find the right passion, melancholy and ‘speaking’ quality in the work and develop it with concentration.The quiet, inward playing of Joyce Yang coupled with the razor-sharp interjections by her colleague gave a heightened dramatic profile and sense of mystery and wonder. The difficult last movement came off with both perfect timing and true emotional feeling.

Of the lighter works, I enjoyed Ravel’s ever-popular Tzigane very much; the interpretation was so clean and musical without a trace of extravagance. Hadelich’s ease in conquering this virtuoso hurdle was quite remarkable. Andre Previn’s ‘Tango, Song and Dance’ (1997) was also effective and a fun way to end the concert, even if the music is not very substantial.  In some ways, the remaining gem was the brief piece by the venerable Toru Takemitsu, ‘From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog’(1983), full of the shaded textures, still and contemplation that are the hallmarks of this composer, played with great control and awareness.

The freshness and sense of camaraderie in this music making certainly gave us all great pleasure. Perhaps my only regret is that the program was a bit short. It would have been nice if the artists could have found room for one more modern violin sonata.

© Geoffrey Newman 2013

Concert Sponsored by the Korea Daily


Augustin Hadelich plays Schumann