November 4, 2009 at 3:35 AM
Much of the United States may have been buried in snow, but Los Angeles had one of its rare, crystalline perfect days for violinist Augustin Hadelich's recital Sunday at Clark Library at UCLA with pianist Ian Parker.
The recital was held in the library's ornate drawing room, its ceiling painted with scenes from Anthony and Cleopatra, each scene framed with intricately carved wood. Along the side walls stood a marble fireplace, portraits of the library's founders and a picture window letting in sunshine from an opulent green lawn.
Something in this elaborate set-up seemed to match the meticulous work that goes into preparing a program of Beethoven, Takemitsu, Poulenc, Zimmermann and Prokofiev. And happily, the small venue was full; the Clark distributes tickets for its chamber music program by lottery, so nearly all of the 100 seats were filled.
I hadn't heard violinist Augustin Hadelich play since 2007, just after he won the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Since then, he's kept busy, recording the complete Haydn violin concerti, as well as a more recent recording called Flying Solo, with all solo violin works. This year he won the Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he continues with a full schedule of recital and orchestra appearances.
Hadelich and Parker started with Beethoven's Sonata for Violin and Piano no. 8 in G, op. 30 no. 3, the first movement an elegant wash of notes. Despite the technical and musical demands of the rest of the recital, I personally enjoyed the second movement of the Beethoven most. The movement features such a simple melody, like something from childhood. In spinning this melody, Hadelich reached a point where he held his audience still and spellbound – I didn't even want to tear away to move my pen. I confess, these days when I hear a violinist of high caliber, I'm less interested in how they handle this little turn or that harmonic (though I suppose if it were a heinous crime against propriety and genre I might flinch) than I am in whether this captivating quality exists. To reach out this much shows a generosity and selflessness, a willingness to communicate with the audience.
Without thinking, I noted that Hadelich's fiddle has a wonderful warmth, a chocolate tone that is rich enough to be a treat but not so rich as to sound over-sweet. Then I realized, he is still playing the ex-Gingold Strad (1683), which he'd been granted for winning the Indianapolis competition. The last time I'd seen this instrument was when I was watching Gingold himself teach at Indiana University, nearly 20 years ago. Happily, that golden tone lives on; it seems a wonderful use of Gingold's instrument, to start a young artist on his or her way every four years, following the competition.
Next was Takemitsu's "Hika," and as Parker explained, "It does not contain melodies you will likely want to hum or whistle on the way home." He was correct. The piece is based on a tone row; understandable more as gesture than as melody. It made me think of a walk through a minefield on, say, Halloween night. Nothing explodes, but the close calls are startling, in this cautious creep through the murk. It ends with a low-ish sustained note in the violin and "plink!" way up on the piano.
Parker and Hadelich introduced the next piece, Poulenc's Sonata for Violin and Piano, Schmidt 119, as a piece that the composer felt was an "utter failure," though they disagree with the composer.
"We both enjoy it!" Hadelich said.
The beginning sounds hurried and lost, with some melodic moments of deliberate direction. The piano pounds – it may have been pounding a bit too loud, I think the lid could have been lowered somewhat in this venue. The second movement was the one Parker and Hadelich said they liked, for its harmony. As Hadelich said beforehand, "The French have this great talent for creating harmonies that evoke a feeling, all on their own." A chord sounds, and the mood shifts. Indeed, the soft but insistent chords in the piano were like a canvas on which the violin could add its line, but the canvas changed color throughout the movement.
After intermission Hadelich played Bernd Zimmermann's Sonata for Solo Violin. If you like bariolage, left-hand pizzicato, huge leaps and millions of notes, you might try this sonata by this rather dark composer, who wrote the opera Die Soldaten and whose life ended in suicide in 1970. Hadelich, who recorded this piece on his most recent CD, negotiated the difficult piece with grace, whipping up the excitement at the ending, with frantic double stops becoming ever more frenzied until the one pizzicato that ends the piece.
The recital ended with one of my favorite pieces, Prokofiev's Flute Sonata-made-Violin Sonata, No. 2 in D major, Op. 94a. With all the pieces composed for us on the violin, do we really need to steal from the flute repertoire? In this case, certainly so. The piece should be played on both instruments. The openings feels like it was made for the violin, featuring some of the instrument's most resonant notes. The violin/flute line starts with an A, falling back upon it several times as though it were a comfortable pillow, before arriving at a G and repeating the pattern. A few bars later we land satisfyingly on D before getting down to business. This introduction is enough for falling in love with the piece, but there's much more. Prokofiev was a composer who knew how to tell a good joke, and the second movement "Scherzo" scurries in confusion, with occasional glimpses of a dance, and other occasional glimpses of a triumphant march that can never quite get going. The third movement is a haunting, meandering line that turns into a dizzy, wandering line. The fourth movement goes back into triumphant mode, but one gets the sense that the victors are slightly full of vodka. It all ends with a lot of noise, and this is exactly how you want to end your program because it brings people to their feet.
But they would have been on their feet anyway for Augustin. It was a pleasure to hear him play.
P.S. Augustin also played in Indianapolis on Monday (the day after this recital; he took a red-eye flight from LA to Indianapolis) for Josef Gingold's 100 birthday celebration. For this, he played Ysaye's "Ballade," which also is included on his Flying Solo disc. I agree with the reviewer: his interpretation of the Ballade is much less aggressive than most, it makes one think of the piece a bit differently.
Wow! I just visited his website thanks to your link. What a silken warm (as you say) sound without being cloying at all. I will keep a lookout for future recitals and concerts by Hadelich (not to mention CDs - thanks for the tip about the Haydn sonatas).
Ooh, I'd love to hear him play. Must check out that Flying Solo CD. I am so heartened by his story, his overcoming the adversity of that accident/recuperation to rise to the fame his talent merits.
I recently heard a recording of the Telemann Fantasies that Augustin Hadelich made. I really admired his interpretation of these. I would suggest listening to them if you are working on the Fantasies. He's a very good violinist and really admirable given some of the unfortunate things that have happened in his life. Good work!
I heard Augustin Haudelich playing Paganini's 4° caprice and Chopin arrangement of nocturne in C sharp moll. Perfect tecnic, wonderful vibrato and sound. To me, he is already a great violinist.
LOVE this violinist as well! Some are born to play and I feel he fits that description! I just discovered him a few months ago myself. Glad I found him!
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