Saturday, 19 October 2013

Recital for solo violin and piano

Palau de la Música Catalana
17 October 2013

The venue, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
From here.
A singing solo violin recital of precisely the right length, followed by a less impressive piano recital.

The solo violin repertoire is small, so it made sense for Sara Cubarsi i Fernández shared her concert with pianist Luis Arias; but I also tend to think lengthy solo recitals should be unusual, not the norm.

Here, both artists contrasted an early modernist work with something older, and both made sensible programming decisions. Bartók’s solo violin sonata is to my ears even more poetic than Bach’s third sonata, though less memorable and uplifting, justifying the decision to place Bach second, at the risk of offputting audience members unused to Bartók.

After the interval, Schumann’s peculiar Kreisleriania was followed by Prokofiev’s more bravura fifth piano sonata. But the highlight, for me, was the solo violin section.

The Bartók is wonderful, being both inventive and challenging in the right way, providing a jolt but sufficiently welcoming that any audience can warm to it. Perhaps Bach wasn’t placed second so as not to pose impossible ‘follow that’ expectations after all.

Bach’s work doesn’t seek to challenge the audience, except perhaps in endurance, for we’re not so used to full-sized solo violin pieces. It’s full sized in another way too, given the composer’s ability to give weight through fugal passages.

Between Bach’s time and Schumann’s, we apparently discovered sonata form, and an unprecedented opportunity to create thematically-derived musical structures. Not that I noticed this in Kreislerania, which may be my fault more than the fault of the pianist, though surely the composer must take more of the blame.

A sequence of meandering poetic fragments, sometimes interesting, mostly not; I am probably allergic to the composer, with the exception of his Fantasie. Prokofiev seems a finer composer for the piano, and underrated, or at least underperformed.

Both performers combined musicianship with the technical skill that we shockingly take for granted. But both were upstaged by the venue: it is hard for to compete with the astonishing profusion of visual delights in this hall.

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