Virtuoso Meal with Four Substantial Courses

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Prokofiev, Bach, and Sarasate: Julio Elizalde (piano), Ray Chen (violin), Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 6.7.2013 (BJ)

Mozart: Violin Sonata in A major, K. 305
Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 94b
Bach: Partita No. 2 in E major for Solo Violin, BWV 1006
Sarasate: Habanera, Playera, and Zigeunerweisen

For some years, Paul Hersh has been the defining piano voice at the Olympic Music Festival. Though he is still a regular and welcome participant in the rustic Quilcene barn, that role has in the past few seasons acquired a new champion in Julio Elizalde, who now serves as Festival founder Alan Iglitzin’s Co-Artistic Director.

The development is evolutionary rather than revolutionary: to hear Elizalde is to realize very quickly that the pearly limpidity of his sound and the elegance and passion of his musicianship mark him out as a Hersh pupil. And just as Hersh has brought gifted young musicians to the festival, Elizalde is becoming a rewarding conduit for new talent in his own right. On this occasion he was partnered with Ray Chen, the 24-year-old Taiwanese-Australian violinist who took first prize in the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in 2008 and in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium a year later.

What this stunning recital made clear is that Chen is destined for stardom at the highest level. A winning platform manner is only the beginning of his virtues. His tone is at once lustrous and warm. Both bow arm and left hand are phenomenal in their address and accuracy—some of the lightning switches between bowed notes and left-hand pizzicatos had to be heard and even then defied belief. Musicianship, too, is evident in the stylistic distinctions with which he imbued the very different works of the four composers on this program (though I think he ought to reconsider his decision to observe first repeats and jettison second ones in an otherwise compelling interpretation of Bach’s lightest and most mercurial solo partita).

With respect, I disagree with Chen’s characterization of this program as a multi-course meal beginning with a salad and continuing with the meat on the menu. Surely this was a European rather than an American menu, since the real substance of the recital came right at the start, with Mozart’s A-major Sonata. Correctly listed in the program, not “for violin and piano,” but as the “Sonata for Piano and Violin” that Mozart and his contemporaries would have called it (and as I wish the Seattle Chamber Music Society would learn to do in comparable repertoire), it was played with an ideal blend of sensitivity and bravura, and, happily, complete with the second repeat in its richly lyrical first movement. Prokofiev’s violin-and-piano arrangement of his D-major Flute Sonata was the relatively lightweight salad in this repast, even though Chen’s and Elizalde’s powerfully articulated playing made it sound more like a major masterpiece than perhaps it is.

It was with the concluding Sarasate pieces than Chen’s dazzling virtuosity made its most striking mark, and Elizalde matched him every inch of the way, contributing piano textures that ranged from massively sonorous to whisperingly delicate. This was apparently the first time the two musicians have played the program in public. They will be touring the United States with it over the next year and a half. If you find that they are appearing anywhere within a few hundred miles from where you live, I urge you very strongly not to miss the chance of experiencing this astonishingly gifted duo for yourself.

Bernard Jacobson