Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa concluded their Tuesday recital with a traversal of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata that was excitingly faithful to the work's passionate and tempestuous nature and, judging by the audience reaction, the recital's most popular offering.
Hahn demonstrated throughout that she possesses an impeccable technique and an extraordinary smoothness of lyrical line, coupled with a silky smooth and uniform tone quality. On this occasion it did not seem to be an especially large sound, and it often was in the shadow of Lisitsa's ebullient and assertive pianism.
The program was also distinguished by the fact that the other works are more often talked about than played. And that includes the Mozart Sonata in A, K305, and the famous "Devil's Trill" Sonata by Tartini.
Legend has it that Tartini dreamed of challenging the Devil to play his violin. Lucifer's response was so dazzling that Tartini tried to transcribe what he heard in the dream, but fell frustratingly short. Nonetheless, Tartini's dream music established new technical hurdles for violinists and is still considered extraordinarily difficult.
Hahn and Lisitsa were in ideal balance, with the simple continuo accompaniment, and Hahn made the tension-filled double stops and fiendish embellishments sound, if not easy, at least eminently playable. The result was a satisfying musical journey.
But even here there were times when Hahn played more sweetly and with less bite and sinew than the music required. Only in the final movement's cadenza did we hear the fiery sound that would make the music's difficulty apparent.
Mozart's Sonata in A, K305, seems to live in the shadow of its siblings, K301 and 304, but Tuesday's performance, filled with joyous grace and elegance, made one wonder why. Perhaps it's only its brevity and the lack of a third movement.
Eugene Ysaye (pronounced E-Sigh) dedicated his Sonata No. 2 for Violin Solo to the famous violinist Jacques Thibaud, whose habit was to warm up every day with Bach's Partita in E Major. The opening theme from Bach's Partita infuses the Ysaye Sonata , alternating with fleeting or spectral references to the Dies Irae theme. Hahn played this fascinating work with such exceptional clarity that each quotation or snippet from the Bach or Dies Irae themes were easy for the listener to pick and keep the music's structure firmly in mind.
The recital had opened with the seldom-heard 1921 Violin Sonata by Janacek. This is assertive, emotional, spiky as well as winningly lyrical music in which Janacek used speech patterns of the Czech language as both motivic and rhythmic material. The artists did an excellent job in making these gestural figures musically communicative, and it gave the listeners a truthful musical portrait of the single-minded and forceful Janacek's craggy personality.
Tuesday night in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church; part of Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series.