Veriko Tchumburidze, Can Çakmur
Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Liszt, Mozart

Aula der Universität, Zürich, 2022-11-11

4.5-star rating

2022-11-27 — Original posting


Die Wieniawski-Preisträgerin Veriko Tchumburidze im Duo mit Can Çakmur — Zusammenfassung

Im Alter von 20 Jahren, gewann die in der Türkei lebende, georgische Violinistin Veriko Tchumburidze (*1996) den ersten Preis am renommierten Internationalen Wieniawski-Wettbewerb 2016, in Poznán (Polen). Für einige Jahre war sie danach auf Europäischen Konzertpodien kaum präsent, und die Pandemie hat beim Einstieg ins internationale Konzertleben auch nicht geholfen. Nun endlich bot sich die Gelegenheit die Musikerin in Zürich zu hören, zusammen mit dem türkischen Pianisten Can Çakmur (*1997): am 11.11.2022 in der ehrwürdigen Aula der Universität.

Die beiden Jungtalente eröffneten den Duo-Abend mit der Violinsonate Nr.32 in B-dur, KV 454, von Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1891). Ein scheinbar einfacher Einstieg—allerdings ist Mozart wohl nie einfach. Hier erwies sich vor allem die akustische Balance mit dem modernen Konzertflügel (Steinway B-211) als problematisch.

Nach Mozart präsentierte Can Çakmur die Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H, S.529/2 von Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)—die eher monströse Transkription eines Orgelwerks des gleichen Komponisten. Hier gelang es dem Pianisten eindrücklich, die klanggewaltige Sonorität der Orgel auf dem Flügel zu imitieren.

Nach der Pause spielte das Duo ein Spätwerk von Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) die 3 Romanzen für Oboe (ad libitum Violine) und Klavier, op.94. Drei leicht wehmütige Stimmungsbilder, komponiert 1849, kurz, bevor der Komponist wegen des sich verschlechternden Gesundheitszustands von Dresden nach Düsseldorf umsiedelte.

Als brillanter, gar glorioser Abschluss des offiziellen Programms folgte die Violinsonate Nr.1 in d-moll, op.75 von Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921): hier erst entfaltete sich das wahre Talent, das technische Können der Violinistin, wobei ihr Can Çakmur in Sachen Virtuosität in nichts nachstand.

Den stimmungsvollen Abschluss bildete die Zugabe, das Andante aus der Sonatine Nr.1 für Violine und Klavier in D-dur, op.137/1, D.384, komponiert 1816 von Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828).


Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula der Universität, Zurich, 2022-11-11 19:30h
Series / TitleMusik an der ETH und UZH — Young Musicians on World Stages
OrganizersMusical Discovery
Foundation Orphanhealthcare
Reviews from related eventsPrevious Concerts in the Series “Musik an der ETH und UZH”
Previous Concerts in this Venue
Recording Session with Can Çakmur (2021-03-21)

Context

This concert / duo recital was organized jointly by Musical Discovery (in the context of their concert series “Musik an der ETH und UZH“), and by the Foundation Orphanhealthcare. The latter is a charitable organization that aims to improve the quality of life of people (particularly children) affected by rare (“orphaned”) diseases. These are conditions that affect a limited number of patients, and hence (unlike frequent illnesses, such as epidemic viruses, bacteria, or “common degenerative diseases”) are typically receiving insufficient attention (care, medication, research, etc.). Typically, a given disease may affect up to a few thousand people each (say, in Europe). However, there is a large number of rare diseases. Therefore, overall, they still affect several hundred thousand patients throughout Europe.

A brief word on the venue. I have written about several recitals here in the past. Already in the first of these (from 2019-03-27), I briefly discussed the venue: (…) this room is the very location where on 1946-09-19, then already out of office, Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) held his historic speech to the academic youth, proclaiming the idea of a unified Europe (“a kind of United States of Europe”). I thought I’d mention this again here, as many of my photos (see below) feature the commemoration plate at the southern wall that refers to Churchill’s speech, ending with the quote: “Therefore I say to you: Let Europe arise!“.


The Artists

Veriko Tchumburidze, Violin

The Georgian violinist Veriko Tchumburidze (*1996, see also Wikipedia) was actually born and grew up in Adana, in Southern Turkey. Both her parents are teachers at Mersin University State Conservatory (her father is an oboist, her mother a violinist). When she was merely 3.5 years old, Veriko Tchumburidze started learning the violin with her mother, Lily Tchumburidze. Her mother remained her teacher also at Mersin University State Conservatory, along with Emre Selahattin Yunkuş (*1960).

2010, Veriko Tchumburidze started studying with Dora Schwarzberg (*1946) at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Since 2015, she has received mentorship by Ana Chumachenco (*1945) at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich. Masterclasses with notable violinists completed her education as soloist. Her real breakthrough came with the first prize at the 15th Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in 2016.

Veriko Tchumburidze performs on a 1756 violin by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711 – 1786).

Can Çakmur, Piano

The Turkish pianist Can Çakmur (*1997, pronunciation: Djahn Chakmur) grew up in Ankara. The artist is not new to me. In March 2021 the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists launched a 5-year, 11-CD recording project involving all of Mozart’s instrumental concertos. I was fortunate enough to be invited to report about the first three recording sessions. Can Çakmur was among the first soloists participating in the project. In my report from 2021-03-20, you find more information on the artist and his biography.

I also briefly mentioned a streamed, joint recital that Can Çakmur performed together with his teacher Grigory Gruzman (*1956), and with the Romanian pianist and fellow student Alina Bercu (*1990). It was a very picturesque, highly atmospheric event in Weimar, on three pianos (all different!), covering a broad range of music from Bach up to Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. In addition, I had the pleasure of being invited to a duo recital that he gave in Zurich earlier this year. This was a recital on two pianos, again together with Alina Bercu, featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D minor, op.125 in Franz Liszt’s transcription for two pianos. I did not review this in my blog, as it was a strictly private event.

Can Çakmur’s instrument in this duo recital was the University’s Steinway B-211 mid-size grand piano. The lid remained fully open throughout the recital.


Program

An earlier version of the program started with what ended up as the second half (Schumann — Saint-Saëns), followed after the intermission by Liszt, and ending with the Mozart sonata. As the report below will show, the decision to rearrange was a very good one!


Setting, etc.

The audience was exceptionally big in this duo recital—certainly not the least because it was a charity event. As usual in this location, I took a seat near the front of the right-hand side block—with good view / conditions for taking photos, excellent / close listening opportunity — and yet not exposed to the full, direct “blast” of the piano.


Concert & Review

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. 1780
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart: Sonata No.32 for Piano and Violin in B♭ major, K.454

Composer & Work

Among the around 36 violin sonatas that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1891) wrote, the Sonata No.32 for Piano and Violin in B♭ major, K.454 is a work from 1784. It features the following three movements:

  1. Largo — Allegro (4/4)
  2. Andante (3/4)
  3. Allegretto (2/2, alla breve)

I have written about this sonata in the context of a comparison of a few recordings, back in 2014.

The Performance

I. Largo —

Mozart starts the sonata with a short, three chord motif, which he repeats in bar 3. The annotation is f for these two bars. Most artists take this as a festive, if not grandiose opening, perhaps meant to attract the attention of the audience. Here, Veriko Tchumburidze performed the chords with a distinctly broad, mellow arpeggio—not loud, nor trumping up, just setting the tone. I instantly noted the mellow, warm sonority of the Guadagnini violin.

Can Çakmur complemented this by also performing his f chords with mellow arpeggi—even though there is not technical reason to do so, and the score has no indications to that effect. Was he trying not to overwhelm the violin? Actually, it was in line with the violin part—though not necessarily the composer’s intent. The one “problem” with this is that this lost the contrast between the signals and the lyrical p bars that followed (2 & 4).

The subsequent bars 5 – 7 felt highly atmospheric—beautiful! Strangely, I instantly felt transported into the Fantasy in C major, op.posth.159, D.934 by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)! That’s a work composed 43 years after this sonata. Was this Mozart’s foresight, or just the way the artists’ interpretation? Or the sonority of the piano?

The demisemiquaver passages in bars 7 – 10, after the “Schubert segment”, gave a foretaste of a problem that persisted through most of the Mozart sonata: acoustic balance. On a modern grand, it is virtually impossible to play these heavily ornamented passages soft enough to match the p sonority of the violin. The violinist can’t just push the volume without altering the character, and most pianists refuse to half-close the lid, as this may affect the sonority.

Allegro

The issue with the balance between the instruments persisted in the Allegro—it was most obvious in the last bars (58 – 65) of the exposition. The artists repeated the exposition, and I liked the light, careful and detailed articulation. Technically, the movement did not challenge the artists’ abilities at all. I knew about the pianist’s prowess from previous encounters, and Veriko Tchumburidze’s appearance was natural, self-assured. As Can Çakmur, she was playing from score / sheet music (tablet), but she had no need to keep her eyes “glued” to the notation.

Musically, however, Mozart never is easy. That’s not just a matter of dynamics / balance, but the challenges are buried in little details. Of course, the performance never “fell apart”, and there were no mishaps (other than rare missing notes on the piano, when Can Çakmur reached the limits in soft playing on the Steinway grand). However, I did have the (almost “subcutaneous”) sensation of occasional, small discrepancies in the agogics (e.g., little ritenuti that were not mirrored adequately). These were hardly noticeable, but they still left me impression that the interpretation still requires some “maturing”. The fact that this was the opening piece may have compounded the such issues.
★★★

II. Andante

I really liked Veriko Tchumburidze’s clear, almost “simple”, unpretentious tone, the discreet vibrato, her flawless intonation. The acoustic balance issues of course persisted. They were most obvious in passages where the violin played p on the g and d’ strings (e.g., bars 9 – 12), while the piano takes over the melody in the descant. Yet, I was glad to note that the violinist resisted the temptation to increase the volume. Only in f passages, her tone showed “grip”, while otherwise her playing was subtle, light, diligent. Throughout the sonata, actually.

Can Çakmur tried his very best to apply careful and differentiated dynamics and articulation. However, it seemed impossible not to dominate over the violin part, and I would have hated to see Veriko Tchumburidze abandon the modesty and subtlety in her unpretentious playing, just to establish balance.
★★★½

III. Allegretto

Can Çakmur’s playing was agile, diligent and differentiated in the dynamics. In general, though, the instrument was again too dominant, with the exception of few passages where the piano part is in the bass, the violin part mostly on the e” string. The third movement allowed Veriko Tchumburidze to show the broadest spectrum on colors, sonorities, and techniques. And again, I liked her restricted vibrato (often, there was none at all!), which never affected the clarity of her tone. Mozart’s music is serene, play- and joyful—strong vibrato would (and does) not have a place here!
★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★½

I often blamed the piano for being too loud in this sonata. It’s not a bad instrument, though. To the contrary, the sonority of the instrument was full, round, warm (especially in the bass). And in Can Çakmur’s hands, it never sounded hard, let alone harsh. However, there is no doubt in my mind (see my earlier comparison of recordings) that for this and other Mozart sonatas (violin sonatas, as well as piano sonatas), the modern grand does not stand a chance against a period instrument, i.e., a fortepiano. In this music, the latter instrument intrinsically offers not just authenticity and superior acoustic balance, but infinitely more subtlety, colors, richness and bandwidth in sound & expression.


Franz Liszt, 1858
Franz Liszt

Liszt: Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H, S.529/2

Composer & Work

In 1855, Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) composed his Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H for organ (S.260/1) which he revised in 1870 (S.260/2). He transcribed both these versions for piano, 2-hands (S.529/1 and S.529/2). This concert featured the piano transcription of the second version from 1870, listed as Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H, S.529/2.

The Fugue is not strictly separated from the Fantasy—it follows quasi attacca. Liszt’s score is full of accelerandi and ritardandi. However, the main tempo annotations are as follows:

  • (Fantasy:) Moderato (a capriccio) — Allegro vivace (quasi presto) — Allegro
  • (Fugue:) Andante — Allegro con brio — Animato — Allegro con brio — Più animato — Presto — Maestoso

The Performance

Before he started playing, Can Çakmur gave a few explanations on Liszt’s transcription—and he demonstrated how the theme B♭-A-C-B (B-A-C-H in German) sounds, such that everybody would instantly recognize its countless instances in Liszt’s piece—both in the fantasy, as well as in the fugue.

(Fantasy:) Moderato (a capriccio) — Allegro vivace (quasi presto) — Allegro

Here now, already in the first few notes (the B-A-C-H theme, of course), Can Çakmur showed a facet of his artistry that I already admired in a duo recital earlier this year. It’s his ability to evoke and control big, impressive sonority even from a mid-size grand piano. Already that theme made it clear: this is organ music. It’s not marked fff, but “merely” ff (though also marcato pesante, and Liszt wanted the sustain pedal down for the first two bars).

Actually, the transcription beats the organ version at least in some aspects: with the percussive nature of the piano, fast passages / figures are much more transparent than on the organ, the listener can hear more detail. On the other hand, the organ offers a wider spectrum in dynamics and colors (stops / registers), and stomach-shaking bass sonority that is impossible to obtain from a piano. I would claim that Can Çakmur was able to compensate for at least some of the instrument’s relative shortcomings. Mainly dominant, powerful bass passages, where organists engane the pedal’s 32′ stop(s), made me occasionally wish for at least a full-size concert grand (maybe not so much for power, but for extra clarity and definition). But still, Can Çakmur’s performance was jaw-dropping.

In the Allegro segment, Liszt offers two variants for the first (rinforzato) part. Can Çakmur selected the more intricate, alternative (ossia) version.

(Fugue:) Andante — Allegro con brio — Animato — Allegro con brio — Più animato — Presto — Maestoso

The four-bar fugue theme—needless to say—consists of B-A-C-H. Actually, not just in the basic form (in crotchets), but Liszt added a transposed instance, and the quavers in the last bar also quote the falling intervals of the original or transposed instance. The fugue is not extremely complex in the sense of Bach’s double- and triple-fugues, but still highly demanding with its full-fingered textures and the widely spanning chords and intervals, especially in the left hand. Can Çakmur mastered the impressive dynamic range while maintaining full, rounded sonority, though never exceeding the sonoric span of the instrument. At the same time, he also maintained the tension, the musical / dramatic flow: the pianistic forces unleashed in an enthralling performance!

In the fugue, Liszt offers alternative versions in two short segments (bars 120 – 122, and 129 – 131). Here, the artist selected the regular, not the ossia version. If at times towering chord cascades sounded blurred, that was the composer’s intent—Liszt was very specific about the use of the sustain pedal. In any case, Can Çakmur managed to “fetch out” the theme clearly at all times, among all the scales, the octave thundering, the waves of chords and wide-spanning arpeggios.

Rating: ★★★★★

Robert Schumann, by M. Lämmel
Robert Schumann

Schumann: 3 Romances for Oboe (Violin) and Piano, op.94

Composer & Work

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) composed his 3 Romances for Oboe (Violin) and Piano, op.94 in December 1849. The original title for op.94 read “Drei Romanzen für Hoboe (ad libitum Violine) mit Begleitung des Pianoforte von Robert Schumann“. The movement annotations are as follows:

  1. Nicht schnell (not fast), M.M. ♩= 100
  2. Einfach, innig — Etwas lebhafter — Tempo I (simple, heartfelt — somewhat more lively), ♩=104
  3. Nicht schnell, ♩= 100

All three Romances are in simple A-B-A form.

The Performance

Compared to the Mozart sonata, the acoustic balance was much better here. Primarily, one can attributed this to the fact that in terms of sound / sonority, the pianos that Robert Schumann knew, used, and composed for (around the middle of the 19th century) were much closer to modern instruments than those at Mozart’s time. Then, the primary solo instrument here is the oboe (Hoboe in Schumann’s spelling). Consequently, the solo part rarely moves onto the g string, and “soft” techniques such as pizzicato are absent. In general, even though the oboe tends to have a bigger volume than a violin, its dynamic range is much narrower—it can hardly produce a real pp, ppp.

I. Nicht schnell

The “A” part is all p and pp, with the exception of a few highlights. Veriko Tchumburidze kept the tone restrained, simple, she used vibrato only for selected notes. Just in the middle (“B”) part, around the climax, and in a segment close to the ending bars, her tone became more expressive and intense. Throughout the piece, however, the artists applied expressive agogics, with little ritenuti and momentary accelerations. An unpretentious, but very atmospheric interpretation!
★★★★

II. Einfach, innig — Etwas lebhafter — Tempo I

Very lyrical, a beautiful, introverted short melody / theme, so warm, intimate and expressive! It is so typical of the late Schumann and somehow reminded me of the (in-)famous “ghost” theme: just the harmonies, or the wistful atmosphere? Also this was a very atmospheric interpretation, for sure. The occasional portamento: a very fitting ornament—inconspicuous, not overused. The middle part is intense, highly expressive, even dramatic—and gradually, gently returning to the initial theme. Again an unpretentious interpretation, but really touching.
★★★★½

III. Nicht schnell

As in the first two romances, my scribblings again included the word “atmospheric”. I noted the subtle, harmonious duo playing, the well-attuned agogics / rubato. The “A” part is the most diverse in the three romances, with frequent changes from pensive, cautious motifs (like a little question, pondering), to short, vehement outbursts, to eruptions of joy, and back to the initial motif. Veriko Tchumburidze’s playing was expressive—despite the mostly restricted vibrato. The short, somewhat more earnest, very expressive middle part exposed the warm, characterful sonority of the g and d’ strings on Veriko Tchumburidze’s Guadagnini.
★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

I’m not sure whether after this interpretation I wanted to listen to the original oboe version of these romances?! Certainly, based on the long silence at the end, the audience was touched!


Camille Saint-Saëns, 1900 (source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Camille Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns: Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor, op.75

Composer & Work

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921) composed his Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor, op.75 in 1885. The work features two pairs of movements, whereby in each pair, the movements follow each other attacca:

  1. Allegro agitato (6/8, 3/8 = 120) —
  2. Adagio (3/4, ♩= 56)
  3. Allegretto moderato (3/8, 3/8 = 72) —
  4. Allegro molto (4/4, ♪ = 168)

The Performance

Clearly, this sonata is a “different beast”—and so was the performance…

I. Allegro agitato —

The performance by Veriko Tchumburidze and Can Çakmur instantly captivated the audience! This mysterious atmosphere in the first bars, already full of suspense, the rapid build-up of tension through impatient swellings, drama building up, along with virtuosity and excitement, even turmoil adding up incessantly, culminating in a veritable thunderstorm, finally discharging in falling cascades of virtuosic figures: at the transition to dolce espressivo one felt breathless. Fascinating!

Even the serene, lyrical middle part (espressivo) with its beautiful singing and the undulating accompaniment, the artists never dropped the tension, maintained the flow at all times. More dramatic “thunderstorm” episodes follow, alternating with segments with contrasting atmosphere: the initial theme, now earnest, menacing, then, the lyrical theme, now highly passionate, but relaxing to serenity and momentary peace: it was absolutely fascinating to observe the two artists, unanimously joined in all these emotional outbreaks!
★★★★★

II. Adagio

This wonderful, warm and intense g and d’ string sonority of the Guadagnini violin: beautiful! Masterful duo playing through all of the many, impressionist mood swings, from intense melancholy to aeolic secrecy, on to mysterious atmosphere and a calm, silent ending. And Veriko Tchumburidze’s portamenti in position changes were the icing on the cake, absolutely fitting!

Gone were all concerns about dynamic balance. Clearly, Saint-Saëns composed for modern instruments and knew exactly how to maintain acoustic balance. Even when Can Çakmur was busy with passagework, the violinist’s p on the g string retained its presence, remained clearly audible. A masterful composition, no doubt—and an excellent, captivating performance.
★★★★★

III. Allegretto moderato

Excellent spiccato playing—retaining sonority and lightness, and also here, the artists retained very good acoustic balance, even in p and pp passages, and also the coordination was excellent, through the agogic swaying. A fascinating movement, moving between playfulness to earnest, even grim mood, and back to casual lightness. The cantabile middle part: beautiful singing, again exposing the marvelous, warm and full sonority of the Guadagnini violin.

The coda (actually the transition to the last movement) is surprising! A warm, deep, chorale-like chord sequence in the piano: solemn, reflective, with playful reminiscences of the Allegretto theme—the tension builds up…
★★★★½

IV. Allegro molto

Absolutely fabulous and stunning: if that wasn’t enthralling, I don’t know what is! Highly virtuosic and agile, all these semiquavers on the violin—very fast, at the limits of what is possible, and yet, highly expressive, from pp up to ff outbursts. And the two artists appeared to fire up each other from one build-up to the next, and through jubilant climaxes, up to the exhausting closure. Masterful—congrats!
★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Needless to say that the applause was frenetic!



Franz Schubert, 1846, 3D Portrait
Franz Schubert

Encore — Schubert: Sonatina No.1 for Violin and Piano in D major, op.137/1, D.384 — II. Andante

The encore was an ideal choice: it was hardly possible to top the virtuosity in the Saint-Saëns sonata, and the artists deserved a chance to relax / recover. Therefore, a simple, lyrical piece really was the only possible option.

To me, the artists’ choice actually was a very pleasant surprise, bringing back memories of my own violin lessons, over 50 years ago—though I don’t want to remember how that sounded back then…

Composer & Work

In 1816, Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) composed a set of three violin sonatas (No.1 in D major, D.384; No.2 in A minor, D.385; No.3 in G minor, D.408). These remained unpublished until after the composer’s death, though. Only in 1836, they appeared under the title “3 Sonatinas, op.posth.137“. The Sonatina No.1 for Violin and Piano in D major, op.posth.137/1, D.384 is the easiest among the three. Its slow second movement (Andante) is a simple, yet particularly serene and beautiful movement, with a slightly melancholic, lyrical middle part.

The Performance

Some may view this as beginner’s piece. It is indeed suited for beginners, for violinists in the early stage of their education. Here, the artists didn’t try hiding the simplicity of this movement. However, even in the serene outer segments, they added intimacy, subtle agogics and expression. In the middle part, these expressions intensified, mixed with typical, Schubertian melancholy and wistfulness. Beautiful again—and an ideal way to end this program!


Conclusions

I didn’t need this recital to know that Can Çakmur is a pianist with excellent perspectives for a career as soloist. And I will report more about this artist from a recital 8 days after this duo evening.

I did of course know about Veriko Tchumburidze‘s first prize at the 2016 Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań, Poland. Oddly, she didn’t show as much presence on European concert stages as some of her contenders in the competition. However, I suspect that then, at age 20, she wasn’t quite ready to embark on intense, exhaustive concertizing tours. For sure, the past 6 years have allowed her to mature musically, as well as a personality, to become the charismatic musician that she now is. The recital has demonstrated that she is ready for an international career!

Lastly: it was interesting and promising to learn that Veriko Tchumburidze and Can Çakmur have just teamed up with the Turkish cellist Dorukhan Doruk (*1991 in Istanbul), to form a piano trio, the Trio Vecando. More information on Dorukhan Doruk is found in my review from a chamber music concert on 2020-11-07 in Baden.


Acknowledgement

The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko (Musical Discovery) for the invitation to this recital.



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