United Kingdom Beethoven, Schoenberg, Brahms. Veronika Eberle (violin) Shai Wosner (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 28.6.2014 (RB)
Beethoven – Violin Sonata in A minor, Op 23
Brahms – Violin Sonata in A, Op 100
Schoenberg – Phantasy, Op 47
Beethoven – Violin Sonata in A, Op 47, ‘Kreutzer’
Veronika Eberle and Shai Wosner are regular chamber music partners and for this recital they focused on composers from the Austro-German tradition. It is possible to trace a direct line of development from Beethoven to Brahms and Schoenberg so it was intriguing to hear key works by the three composers in the same concert. Eberle was playing on a ‘Dragonetti’ Stradivarius dating from 1700.
Beethoven’s A minor sonata was written as a companion piece to the more famous Spring Sonata but it has a much darker and more austere character than the latter. It was clear from the opening Presto that both performers were adopting a very Classical approach to the work. The phrasing and interplay between Eberle and Wosner were immaculate and both players captured the feverish and unsettled character of the music. However, I felt Eberle’s playing was a little too clinical and on the surface of the instrument and I would have welcomed greater weight and depth of sound. The middle movement has the unusual marking Andante scherzoso and was Beethoven’s attempt to roll the slow movement and scherzo into one. I liked the way Wosner captured the coy humour of the opening while both players did an excellent job with the voicing of the fugato section. Wosner showed us a gorgeous variety of subtly nuanced touches and timbres in this movement and his articulation was superb. There was some dazzling passagework in the finale and the rhythms were very tight and well controlled, although I wondered if both performers could have done a little more to lighten the mood in the A major episodes.
From Beethoven we moved to Brahms’ supremely lyrical A major sonata which was written while the composer was staying in Hofstetten in 1886. I preferred Eberle’s approach to this piece – she brought wonderful warmth and lustre to the work and really made the melodies sing. The opening movement unfolded seamlessly and organically with both players approaching the score in a very sincere and emotional way but without being overly mawkish. As with the Beethoven, the second movement is again a hybrid of a slow movement and scherzo. Eberle brought radiance and serenity to the gorgeous opening melody while I loved the way Wosner kept the textures of the scherzo sections very light and transparent. I wondered if Eberle could have made the slow melody even more heartfelt – it seemed a little too restrained. Eberle brought a richness of tone and clarity to the finale while Wosner injected a lightness of touch and a perfectly calibrated tonal palette into the accompanying piano figurations.
The second half of the concert opened with Schoenberg’s Phantasy which was written in 1949 in response to a commission from the Canadian violinist, Adolph Koldofsky. Schoenberg described it as ‘a piece for violin solo with piano accompaniment’ and it is his last instrumental composition. It is a highly virtuosic and imaginative piece in a concentrated single movement which combines a waltz, a chorale and an extended scherzo-like section. Eberle’s playing was highly dramatic and intense and she negotiated the virtuoso demands exceptionally well. Wosner succeeded in evincing ghostly, whispered sonorities that seemed to convey highly disturbed and paranoid feelings. As the music progressed, Eberle whipped things up to create a dark and grotesque expressionist nightmare in a really superb piece of violin playing.
The concluding work in the recital was Beethoven’s perennially popular Kreutzer Sonata which was written a couple of years after the A minor sonata and contains some of the composer’s most original music for violin and piano. The opening chords were given a stately noble sheen by Eberle before both players launched into the ensuing Presto. They succeeded in sustaining a very brisk tempo and injected considerable energy and excitement into the movement while the articulation was razor sharp and incisive. This was very much the music of Beethoven the revolutionary, prising open the doors of the Classical era and ushering in the new and dynamic Romantic era. The central set of variations maintained an elegant sense of Classical poise and decorum while the increasingly intricate passagework was played with a high degree of finish and attention to detail. There were some highly original touches and I particularly liked Wosner’s handling of the passagework immediately after the minor key variation which seemed to have a very ethereal quality. The final galloping tarantella was played with enormous energy and verve and the rhythms remained taut throughout before both players drove the sonata to its triumphant conclusion.
There was some exceptionally fine playing, particularly in the second half of the concert. The performers received a standing ovation from the Wigmore audience and played the slow movement from Brahms’ D Minor Violin Sonata as an encore.