“Master & Students” Performance #2:
Leclair / Brahms / Beethoven
Festival Academy Budapest 2018, Day 3
Budapest, Franz Liszt Music Academy — 2018-07-25
One of the features of the Festival Academy is the opportunity for students to participate in chamber music master classes with artists performing at the festival. These master classes may be public (Open Master Classes), if the students agree. On top of that, the works that are played in the master classes are then also performed in “Master and Students” concerts. During my stay in Budapest, I attended three (out of 5) such “Master and Students” concerts. This one featured four groups of artists and students. As all concerts, this performance took place in the academy’s Solti Hall, the smaller of the two main concert halls. Out of five, the second one—described in this post—was scheduled right after my arrival. I was even a bit late for the first performance.
All pictures below are © Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved.
About This Concert
Within the 2018 Festival Academy, this was the second one out of five “Masters and Students” recitals. The program was as follows, with the relevant master artists:
- Leclair: Sonata for Two Violins in B♭ major, op.12/6 (Katalin Kokas)
- Brahms: String Sextet in G major, op.36 (Danjulo Ishizaka, Dmitry Smirnov)
- Beethoven: Sonata for Piano and Violin No.4 in A minor, op.23 (Alexander Ullmann)
- Beethoven: Trio for Flute, Bassoon, and Piano in G major, WoO 37 (György Lakatos)
Leclair: Sonata for Two Violins in B♭ major, op.12/6
During his lifetime, the baroque violinist and composer Jean-Marie Leclair (1697 – 1764) published works under 15 opus numbers. These works are almost exclusively violin sonatas, op.3 and op.12 are collections of sonatas for 2 violins (6 sonatas each). The last one of these, op.12/6 is in B♭ major and features the following movements:
- Allegro moderato
- Andante: Dolce
- Allegro non presto
The typical music aficionado & concertgoer may think of Jean-Marie Leclair (1697 – 1764) as an easy-going, early classical composer. However, that’s far from reality—certainly for this sonata! Not only is this harmonically very advanced music for the time of its creation, but it comes with its fair share of challenges, in terms of intonation (think of two „naked“ violins playing with their voices intertwined, often falling into unison or other, narrow intervals susceptible to impurity). The sonata requires advanced, late baroque style ornamentation—and on top of this, one still needs to shape this into overall, dramatic phrases / arches.
- Katalin Kokas, violin
- Mu-Di Wu, violin
As I just arrived at the festival, I was a few minutes late and did not hear the first two movements. In the slow movement (Andante: Dolce), the duo was not perfect, but still excellent at mastering the intonation. The articulation was light, the tone full of character, the sonority of the two instruments well-matching, as was the articulation. I especially liked the agogic play in the swaying fioriture (and that’s the proper description for these rich, blooming ornaments!), and the gentle, dramatic arch over the entire movement. Lovely and interesting music, for sure!
The last movement (Allegro non presto) differs in the challenges, but saw an equally enjoyable, compelling interpretation. It featured light, swaying articulation, flexible, never stressed, fast ornaments, good intonation, a natural, lively tempo. There was no inadvertent acceleration or slow-down, just natural agogics. I should add that, as far as I could see & hear, Katalin Kokas didn’t make attempts to dominate or overwhelm the student (Mu-Di Wu), but left her plenty of room to articulate her own voice. A first highlight to me, in this festival!
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) wrote his String Sextet No.2 in G major, op.36 during the years 1864 / 1865. The composition has four movements:
- Allegro non troppo — Un poco sostenuto
- Scherzo – Allegro non troppo – Presto giocoso
- Poco allegro
Only the first movement was performed here.
- Veronique de Raedemaeker, violin
- Alexandra Arba, violin
- Anselmo Simini, viola
- Dmitry Smirnov (*1994 in Saint Petersburg), viola
- Junko Fuji, cello
- Danjulo Ishizaka (*1979, see also Wikipedia), cello
The primary master artist here was Danjulo Ishizaka. Dmitry Smirnov at the second viola stepped in for a student.
For the String Sextet in G major, op.36, by Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), the cellist Danjulo Ishizaka was playing with a group of four students, plus Dmitry Smirnov at the second viola. One should think that with six musicians, this piece is easier on the individual, as they all should be sharing forces, helping each other. To some degree, the middle voices could indeed „hide in the collective“. However, the first violin in Brahms‘ composition is extremely exposed, especially in the beginning, and in particular because the cellos (and with those, the teacher / master) joins in only later.
I. Allegro non troppo — Un poco sostenuto
One could almost „touch“ the challenges. The violins sounded a bit thin, the intonation initially was shaky, and it seemed hard for the ensemble to gain momentum. It felt as if the student musicians took a while to „find each other“, to gain security and some firmness, also in the pace. It certainly sounded reaffirming when the teacher joined in at the cello. There, the music started blooming. I also noted how the second viola (Dmitry Smirnov) helped „carrying“ the performance with its full, warm sound. I should mention, though, that some of the thin, often pointy sound of the first violin may have been caused by the instrument, not (or not just) the playing. Not everybody can afford a Guarneri…
One of the difficulty in Brahms’ composition is the balance between ensemble sound and individuality for the six voices. Sadly, Brahms doesn’t give too many opportunities for the second violin (and also the first viola, to some degree) to gain and expose profile. That’s of course not a problem for the first violin, but also the first cellist showed excellent sound / sonority, firmness in her playing, the ability to raise and articulate her own voice.
The exposition was repeated—a good thing, because it allowed for a second pass with increased self-assurance and firmness, especially in the upper voices.
The Sonata for Piano and Violin No.4 in A minor op.23 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) is a work from 1801. I have posted an extensive comparison of 7 recordings of this sonata in an earlier post. Here, I’ll therefore just list the movements:
- Andante scherzoso, più tosto Allegretto
- Allegro molto
Only the second movement was performed.
- Yejin Roh, violin
- Alexander Ullman (*1991 in London), piano
For the middle movement (Andante scherzoso, più Allegretto) of the violin sonata in a minor, op.23, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), the pianist Alexander Ullmann was the duo partner of violinist Vejin Roh. One may argue that the piano (Steinway D-274) was somewhat dominant in this performance. However, Beethoven wrote his “violin sonatas” for piano and violin, i.e., the piano was meant to be the primary instrument. Sure, one might also argue that a period fortepiano would have shifted the balance towards the violin—but then again, the violin was a modern instrument with more volume…
II. Andante scherzoso, più tosto Allegretto
I liked the fact that Yejin Roh avoided using an “extra big tone” to cope with the volume of the Steinway grand. Despite the light, elegant articulation, and despite the smaller volume, her playing sounded self-assured, firm in tone, articulation and rhythm. Of course, Beethoven leaves the initiative and the control in the piano part. One cannot blame the violinist for lack of initiative, and Alexander Ullman played his part diligently, avoiding to overwhelm or override the student. It would have been preferable to hear the repeat of the exposition. Very nice on the other hand: the seamless and stress-free exchange of motifs in the development part. A serene movement—and a serene performance!
Allegedly around 1786, when he was just 15 – 16 and still resided in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote a Trio for Flute, Bassoon, and Piano in G major, WoO 37 that he never officially published. Hence it is listed as “work without opus number” (WoO). The work was discovered in Beethoven’s legacy. It only appeared in print in 1888. The composition features three movements:
- Thema Andante con variazioni (theme with 7 variations)
Only the outer movements were performed.
- Ágnes Orsolya Fehérvári, flute
- Marco Sanna, piano
- György Lakatos (*1960, Hungary), bassoon
In this composition, Beethoven’s music sounds still relatively close to Mozart’s divertimenti for wind instruments. It’s a pleasant, nice and playful composition. Already at age 16, the young Beethoven showed considerable mastership in this Trio / divertimento!
Just as in the above violin sonata, the piano again takes the clear lead role—maybe slightly too much in this performance? I found the articulation to be detailed, though a tad too robust. My preference would have been with more subtlety, also considering the soundscape and articulation characteristics of instruments at Beethoven’s time. Also, I’m not sure whether it was Beethoven’s intent to play the semiquavers in the ascending scales in pairs rather than all articulated the same? My score only shows a single phrasing bow across the scale.
Beethoven’s bassoon part is rather demanding. That’s not a problem for György Lakatos, of course. However, besides the dominant piano playing, the bassoon part put the flute at a disadvantage. The latter often plays colla parte, and its soft articulation doesn’t help gaining presence either. Judging from the few solo and lead segments, Ágnes Orsolya Fehérvári’s flute playing showed an even, mellow tone, with an inconspicuous vibrato. One quibble with the performance: in the recapitulation, and especially in the coda, there were some slight accelerations that felt like rushing, i.e., seemed to lack justification from the score, the music.
The repeat of the exposition was omitted. I suspect this was in order not to let the recital exceed the allocated duration of one hour?
III. Thema Andante con variazioni
The final variation movement helped re-establishing the instrumental balance. Each of the instruments gets variations in which it can expose its sound, articulation and virtuosity. So, all three players get their share of attention. Technically, all three mastered the sonata fairly well—without question of course György Lakatos: I really enjoyed his delicate, subtle agogics—superb!
The movement left me with some objections, though, in the area of repeats and tempo management. As for the former: I can understand that György Lakatos didn’t do repeats in “his” variations (II, IV/minore). The repeats were observed in the initial theme and in the final Thema allegro. There were no repeats played in variations III (flute) and VII, but the repeats in variation VI (flute & piano) were performed. Also, the pianist appears to have insisted in playing repeats in “his” virtuosic variations I and V. The approach lacked consequence, a clear line.
In most variations, the pace felt natural—no objections. Exceptions were in the virtuosic variation V and VI (piano). V was mastered well, for sure, and fairly fast. However, the flautist could impossibly take over that fast pace for her demisemiquaver runs in variation VI, so she was forced to take a slower pace. That didn’t stop the pianist from returning to his fast pace for the (again virtuosic) piano interjections, causing ruptures in the tempo. In the end, to me, this left the impression that the artists hadn’t quite reached an agreement on how to approach this movement?