Two piano recitals this week were occasions for brilliant undecorated musicianship, but reminded that classical music can be as thrilling as every other musical genre.
The Curtis Institute of Music’s Alumni Recital Series brought violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute to the Field Concert Hall on Sunday afternoon. Koh first played Partita No. 2 by J. S. Bach, with casual confidence and almost rote skill. Jokubaviciute accompanied Koh for Brahms’ “Sonata no. 2.” There was even an intriguing reserve from both musicians in the atmosphere of this reading of Brahms that is never overwrought Jokubaviciute particularly pointed away from the intrinsic romanticism.
Or were they saving themselves for their diamond hard performance of Bé la Bartok’s “Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano.” From the assaulting opening passages, this work just ripped through the consciousness. It is like each instrument is a speeding parallel train without tracks. The players were expert as jazz artists in the handoffs, the tonal collisions and framing the solos. The scarred tremolos of Koh’s violin lead to Jokubaviciute’s exploration of Bartok’s desolate chambers. A darkly metaphysical work completely illuminated by these two thrilling artists.
On Monday, Daniel Barenboim continued his conquest of Philly, musically, if not personally. He was in town for a solo piano recital in Verizon Hall. On Saturday, WRTI broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera production of “Tristan and Isolde” was no less than a complete triumph. Everything came over in the five hour broadcast- the power, poetry, drama and epic grandeur of Wagner- conducted brilliantly by Maestro Barenboim.
It was redemption of sorts for Barenboim and WRTI listeners after his thorny interview the week before with Crossover host Jill Pasternak. He barely let her get her questions out and pretty much sounded like he wasn’t interested in what she had to say as a musician herself. She hung in there and landed one of the show’s most compelling interviews. Barenboim couldn’t have been more gracious in front of the almost sell-out audience at Verizon, as he unceremoniously launched into a program of Franz Liszt.
For anyone who thinks of Liszt as a showy, Barenboim was about to reveal the real musical world of the 19th century composer. Amazing that such a bombastic personality as Barenboim could achieve the stillness of Liszt’s ‘ Petrach Sonnets‘ with such skill that the serenity extended out to an unusually transfixed audience right out of the gate. Those Sonetto (47, 104, 123) are part of the composer’s musical diary – from his student travels observing nature to his studies and loves. Barenboim, measured and engaged, essays a supple musical journey with such relaxed precision it was a sight to behold and to hear.
The watery entrance of ‘Legendes’ has a slight comic flair in Barenboim’s hands, because of his ease with the density. In fact, there was even some mach- tempo muddiness, he was so fast. The clarion opening of the so called ‘Dante Sonata’ (Liszt’s unattributed passages from the Divine Comedy) Barenboim’s states with steely muscle and virtuosic attitude befitting the themes.
The second half brought Liszt’s ‘paraphrases’ (as opposed to transcriptions) of Verdi operas “Aida”, “Il Trovatore” and “Rigoletto.”
The maestro pianist is incandescent in transmitting his understanding of the import of Liszt’s operatic achievement for the piano. He is so operatic, in fact, that these fanciful cameos condensed images of Aida summoning her guard, Leonora dazed and Rigoletto lurking in the night. Mopping he head at the end, the crowd was able to coax the pianist out for one more and Barenboim condescended with a little Schubert.