INSPIRED YOUNG CLASSICAL MUSICIANS
Chan and Kay Meek Centres, February 13 and 15, and March 20, 2011
Even from the first few notes of 29 year-old Alisa Weilerstein’s performance of the Bach Cello Suites 3 and 5, one noted the magnificent strength and variety in her tone and her ability to structure a work with thought and complete command. This is an extraordinary young cellist; for those who say ‘she has it all’, I would have to agree. The Bach Suites may have been somewhat on the romantic side, but the cellist showed such awareness and concentration in each movement that she simply made them her own. Her collaboration with 30 year old composer/ singer/ pianist, and friend Gabriel Kahane in a sort of mixed media, ultra-modern composition (cello with piano, with pop, folk song and protest poetry) entitled Little Sleep’s Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight may have been a bit of a challenge for some listeners, but it certainly showed the cellist’s mastery of styles and tone-colours from Bach through Faure, and beyond. Taken as a cello sonata, I found the variety in the work enjoyable, if not breaking new ground.
There was certainly the feeling of a family gathering in the air when the next concert featured (father) Jeffrey Kahane as accompanist for the now widely-heralded, 37 year-old British (originally South African) violinist, Daniel Hope. Honoured as a member of the Beaux Arts Trio for its final six years, a noted author and musical activist, the violinist has already recorded 20 CD’s. In his purity, poise and elegance, he reminds me somewhat of the legendary Arthur Grumiaux but his subtle interpretative probing also defines a clear debt to his long time collaborator, Yehudi Menuhin. In the Franck and Brahms violin sonatas, there was so much that was sheerly beautiful but I don’t think the two artists were matched that well. Whereas the violinist often sought half-tones and a fragile tenderness in the phrasing, pianist Kahane was consistently strong and forthright. Perhaps for this reason, the emotional peaks in the Brahms did not quite have full resolution while the Franck ended up being somewhat cerebral, lacking ardour overall. If both artists had aimed for a more intimate scale, the results might have been magical. Daniel Hope is a violinist distinguished by musical insight, not by power and bravura per se. A further debt to him for introducing Erwin Schuloff’s Violin Sonata No. 2, an imaginative work by a Czech composer who tragically did not survive the Holocaust. (His String Quartet No. 1 will also be featured in the April concert of the Pavel Haas Quartet.)
Taking on Beethoven’s titanic Hammerklavier Sonata is not something that a 28 year-old pianist often does, but this did not stop the young Berlin-born Martin Helmchen. He is a most articulate, intelligent pianist, one who can fully probe the detail of a work without ever losing sight of its overall balance and development. Through all Beethoven’s jagged proclamations, quirky protracted phrases, to his underlying world of sublime still, Helmchen was a sure, selfless guide, never faltering in his vision. As this work has so many ‘traps’, the pianist’s accomplishment was remarkable. Technically demanding, one scarcely noticed the pianist’s immense technique, so intense was his communication of musical values and so mature was his understanding of Beethoven’s complex world. I was certainly left with no doubt why this work is one of the highest peaks of piano composition – and that is the supreme compliment. Martin Helmchen offers wonderful artistic potential to us.
© Geoffrey Newman 2011