United States Aspen Music Festival – Various: Augustin Hadelich (violin and piano), performance recorded at Hadelich’s home in Connecticut and presented virtually by Aspen Music Festival, 23.8.2020. (HS)
J. S. Bach – Partita No.3 for Unaccompanied Violin in E major BWV1006
Ysaÿe – Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin in A minor Op.27 No.2
Rachmaninoff – ‘Vocalise’ Op.34 No.14
Roumain – ‘Filter’
Sarasate – ‘Carmen Fantasy’
Aspen Music Festival wrapped up its virtual season with an extraordinary recital from the violinist Augustin Hadelich on Sunday afternoon. He not only dazzled with technical brilliance and plenty of feeling but also, through the magic of modern digital wizardry, accompanied himself on an electric piano.
That last attribute prompted a thought from festival CEO Alan Fletcher who said, in his brief introduction, ‘It could only happen in a virtual festival like this’. After all, every performance this summer was presented digitally.
Unobtrusive camera work and smart lighting against a white background in a room with live acoustics gave viewers intimate glimpses of Hadelich’s every nuance. Medium shots and closeups of hands on fingerboard framed his expressive face, which often reflected what he was coaxing from the music. The recital was also shot in a single take, and Hadelich spoke directly to the camera between the pieces. It all felt remarkably like watching from a front-row seat.
For the two pieces with the prerecorded piano, a corner picture-in-picture showed him at a spinet-size electric piano. Though neither piece required keyboard virtuosity, Hadelich’s playing provided a comfortably synchronized underpinning that put the emphasis on the violin.
The soft piano harmonies of Rachmaninoff’s sweetly lyrical ‘Vocalise’ framed the violin’s sustained melodic line as Hadelich unfurled it like a long silky scarf. If he lacked the flair of a solo pianist, his work on the piano reduction of the orchestra’s part in Sarasate’s ‘Carmen Fantasy’ supported the virtuosic riffs on Bizet’s beloved tunes with the sort of unanimity of rhythm and style that otherwise must come from years of collaboration with another human.
This was also the first time to hear Hadelich play the Guarneri instrument recently loaned to him. Hadelich seems to have taken quickly to the robust-sounding violin, which once belonged to the legendary Henryk Szeryng. Fiendishly difficult passages emerged with clarity and precision. Dynamics shifted with deftness, softer moments caressed notes to produce a heartbreakingly beautiful sound, and an eye-opening array of special effects kept this listener in awe. This is a heck of a fiddle (and fiddler).
The main dishes on this menu came at the start, when he began with Bach’s eighteenth-century Partita No.3 for Unaccompanied Violin in E major and followed with Ysaÿe’s twentieth-century Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin in A minor, which elaborates on familiar melodic strands from that same Bach partita.
The prelude opened at a breakneck tempo, though Hadelich used the traditional Baroque bow to shape it with subtle differences in attack and contrasts in dynamics. The Loure moved with grace and elegance. Along with a winning smile, Hadelich seemed to be half-dancing with the rhythms of the famous Gavotte en Rondeau, which sprang from the violin with remarkable presence. The pair of minuets lilted rhythmically, and if his speedy approach to the Bourée lost a bit of Bach’s wit, the Gigue finished things with panache.
Introducing the Ysaÿe sonata, Hadelich puzzled over its mixture of Bach and the ‘Dies irae’ tune, which shows up as a sort of idée fixe in all four movements. Most effective was the Poco Lento second movement, played with gorgeous richness despite the muted sound, the final slow statement of the ‘Dies irae’ fading away hauntingly. There were moments in the Sarabande that felt like Celtic fiddling, and the Allegro Furioso finale whizzed by brilliantly.
The Rachmaninoff came next, followed by African-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Jimi Hendrix-inspired ‘Filter’. The unaccompanied piece (from 1991) combines traditionally virtuosic violin gestures, such as runs, curlicues and pizzicato interjections, with sounds that eerily mimicked electric guitar riffs by running the bow up against the instrument’s bridge. The main melodic material dealt in bluesy ostinatos, and Hadelich caught the style nicely.
Finishing up with Carmen made for a delicious dessert. The much-loved tunes from Bizet’s opera got florid treatments from the nineteenth-century violin virtuoso and composer Pablo Sarasate. By accompanying himself on piano, Hadelich made the touches of rubato and final exuberant accelerations of the Gypsy dance come off with perfect synchronization, an uplifting finish.
The recital repeats on the festival’s website and YouTube channel on Tuesday 25 August at 7pm MDT.