Brilliance and Stylistic Insight from a Youthful Piano and Violin Duo

United StatesUnited States Mozart and Janáček: Andrew Tyson (piano), Benjamin Beilman (violin), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 8.4.2016. (BJ)

Mozart: Violin Sonatas: G major, K. 301; E minor, K. 304; A major, K. 526
Janáček: Violin Sonata (1914-21); Dumka (1880)

Though they appeared as last-minute replacements for Christian Tetzlaff, who had canceled a planned United States tour for family reasons, Andrew Tyson and Benjamin Beilman made a distinctly positive impression on their own account in this strongly programmed and beautifully performed Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital.

If I write first about the pianist, it is not out of any disrespect for violinist Benjamin Beilman, but because the larger part of the program consisted of sonatas by Mozart. Though we usually call them “violin sonatas,” it was the keyboard than normally took precedence when Mozart began his long series of works combining the violin with a keyboard instrument. Even at the end of 1781, the composer was still billing works in the genre as “Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano with the accompaniment of a Violin,” and Mozart dedicated them not to a violinist but to his piano pupil Josepha Auernhammer.

In their realization of two sonatas from 1778 and the last-but-one in the series, K. 526 from 1787, Beilman’s playing was brilliant enough to demonstrate how the violin was beginning to reassert something like the leadership role it had filled in the music of such 17th-century virtuoso violinist-composers as Biber. But Andrew Tyson at the piano was by no means playing second fiddle.

Tyson commands a pellucid tone peculiarly well suited to Mozart’s music. It is the kind of sound that Walter Gieseking achieved in an unforgettable 1955 live performance of the C-Major Concerto, K. 467, with Guido Cantelli and the New York Philharmonic, which you can still hear on a Music and Arts CD.

Among more recent pianists, Murray Perahia (in the glory of his youth) blended a similar pearly sonority with an apparently seamless legato that yet offered a degree of separation between the notes, before he seems to have decided to become a Big Pianist, and the Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes and the Irishman Ronan O’Hora are present-day exponents of the same refined art. That Tyson, still in his twenties, can be named on equal terms with such eminent colleagues is sufficient recognition of his talent, and in these performances the elegance of his phrasing in sustained passages was matched in more outgoing vein by his exhilarating way with the many rapid scale passages Mozart gave him to play.

In Mozart’s own time, with a perceptivity unusual in a review of new music, the critic of Cramer’s Music Magazine described the sonatas as “the only ones of their kind…very brilliant, and suitable for the instrument. Furthermore,” he went on, “the violin accompaniment is so ingeniously linked with the keyboard part that both instruments attract constant attention; these sonatas consequently call for a violinist no less accomplished than the keyboard player.” The 26-year-old Beilman did not disappointment in that regard. He makes a lovely sound, at once rich and warm while free of any excess of sweetness (rather like a cup of good cappuccino), and like Tyson, he demonstrated a lively stylistic intelligence and a keen expressivity to go with his formidable technical command.

In the two works by Janáček that formed the middle section of the program—Mozart’s K. 526 came at the evening’s end—Beilman naturally became the listener’s principal focus, filling that role with equal mastery, but here too his collaboration with Tyson benefitted from the pianist’s vivid realization of the Czech master’s speech-inflected rhythms.

It’s to be hoped that Tetzlaff’s originally promised recital—a rare unaccompanied program ranging from Bach by way of Ysaÿe and Bartók to Kurtág—can be reinstated before long in PCMS’s planning. But meanwhile both Beilman and Tyson have emphatically earned their own rights to early re-engagement.

Bernard Jacobson

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