May 30, 2013 at 1:49 AMViolinist Giora Schmidt played a recital that ranged from the outrageously virtuosic to the most quiet and intimate of music -- a fitting musical display to top off the first night of the 2013 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at The Juilliard School.
Giora and pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion proved a well-matched pair, showing a beautiful synchronicity in sound, timing and musical idea throughout the evening.
They began the recital with a performance of Beethoven's Sonata in D Major, Op. 12 No. 1, both displaying crystal-clear passagework. I especially enjoyed the second movement, a theme and variations that was in turn playful, dramatic, and gentle.
The Schumann Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105, is an old favorite for me, and probably for many people who were in the room. (Imagine playing for this room of nothing but well-schooled violinists -- a little daunting!) Their performance was full of energy and musical tension (the good kind) in the first movement. The second-movement Allegretto is such a contrast; knowing I was in such good hands with these sure performers, I simply relaxed. What a funny movement it is, kind of disjointed, like an unplanned day in the sun. In fact, it was a lot like my day in New York: stopping, pausing to look at things along the way, then those things seem to flutter off. It seemed to me that this movement would make great music for some animated film. They ended the movement so beautifully, in good partnership.
Earlier in the day, Indiana University violin professor Jorja Fleezanis had spoken about finding one's voice on the violin, and when they played Faure's Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, Giora seemed to be illustrating her point, playing the first movement in a singing voice with so much conviction -- extremely clear in line, idea and tone. The second movement was more dark and mourning, a study in stillness and artful vibrato.
But the gem of the evening, in terms of dazzling fiddle playing, had to be the Valse-Caprice ("Caprice d'après l'Etude en forme de Valse" by Eugene Ysaye. I have a theory about why I've never heard it played live: It's too hard for anyone to play well enough to perform! But this can't be exactly true: Giora Schmidt rocked this piece. He played it with the kind of virtuosity that makes impossible passages sound inevitable, with a many-colored palette and wonderful timing. I enjoyed the way the music falls skyward into heaven so many times (way up high on the fiddle), then the last time goes there with great conviction. This piece explores every far region and reach of the violin, he made it look easy. Of course, he played for a room full of people who know how much work that takes!
As an encore, Giora played the "Berceuse Sfaradite" (or "Sfardic Lullaby") by Paul Ben-Haim -- a beautiful piece that I'd never heard. With permission, I caught it on video -- it is muted and gentle, so pick a quiet place and time to listen:
A side-note: Just to remind us all that we live in the 21st century: Giora did not use sheet music; he used a computer tablet and foot pedal while pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion had a human page turner.
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