Itamar Zorman and Kwan Yi in Radford

February 26, 2016, 12:10 PM · What? Who? Where?

Now calm down. Itamar Zorman rose to stardom in the violin world when he took the Silver Medal in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Violin Competition, an achievement that stirred controversy because no Gold Medal was awarded. Kwan Yi is a piano professor at Radford University (in southwestern Virginia) and has also received numerous accolades including a prize at the Fourth Sendai International Competition. Together Zorman and Yi have performed frequently as a duo, including a November 2014 engagement at Carnegie Hall and a beautiful CD entitled “Portrait” released in 2014.

Itimar Zorman

On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, the Radford University Music Department hosted a Guest Artist Recital featuring Zorman and Yi in an all-sonata program at the Covington Center in Radford, Virginia. They performed brilliantly, albeit for fewer than 100 guests. I suppose poor attendance is not too surprising on a “school night” in a relatively out-of-the-way location. But, Radford is where Yi holds his professorship, and likely he enjoyed having Zorman play at his institution for a genuinely appreciative if small crowd of music lovers, music teachers, and music students. But maybe they also saw an opportunity to warm up for their performance of the same program on Friday February 26, at Wolf Trap. (See the review in The Washington Post.)

This was no warm-up, though. This was polished artistry.

The recital opened with the Mozart Sonata in B-Flat Major, K. 378. The playing was cheerful and lovely, but I wanted to hear just a little more violin. The clean, linear style required of the violinist is not easily heard against a nine-foot Steinway. On studio recordings (Perlman and Barenboim, for example) the engineers can always compensate, but Mozart sonatas must be difficult to perform on stage. One cannot blame Zorman, who knows how to produce tone on the 1734 Guarneri provided for his use by Yehuda Zisapel. Neither can one blame Yi, who obviously has full command of the dynamic range of the piano. That only leaves the composer! Still, Zorman and Yi gave us beautiful phrasing and clean ensemble work, especially in the Rondo where there are some fast parallel triplet figures. The Andantino was so pretty that the audience could not entirely refrain from brief applause.

The second piece on the program was the Brahms Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100. Immediately Zorman dug deeper into the string with his right hand and released his rich vibrato from its fetters. With a sparsely populated recital hall, especially one with fine acoustics such as Covington, one can choose truly great seats. We were able to see Yi’s hands plying so much warmth from the keyboard while also enjoying a perfect view of Zorman’s sound point. Zorman spent more time in the extreme sound points than I think is typical, but he did coax a rich palette of violin color therefrom. The third movement brought forth the surging waves of beauty that are so characteristic of this work.

After intermission the audience was treated to the Bartok Sonata No. 1 Sz. 75. Zorman took a few minutes to explain the main themes of the piece (which he and Yi demonstrated on their instruments), as well as some general tips on what to listen for in Bartok. And then they jumped right in! The Bartok No. 1 is a sonata on a grand canvas. Even Yi, whose demeanor at the piano (and elsewhere) is quite refined and reserved, was obviously working at capacity to play what is widely regarded to be an impossible part. But despite the rough and tumble of the fast movements, the ensemble was seamless and the logic of the piece came through with perfect clarity. My listening companion for the evening remarked, as we were leaving, that it was “a great evening of second movements.” And of these the greatest, arguably, was in the Bartok, where Zorman’s command of tone and color brought out the haunting emotion of the simple melodic line.

A warm ovation was offered but no encore was forthcoming. But I was grateful. With a great meal, sometimes one does not have room for dessert.

It must be mentioned that this amazing recital was enjoyed free of charge because of the outstanding generosity of local music lover and philanthropist Dr. Johann Norstedt, who sponsored Zorman’s appearance entirely.

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