Two outstanding performances of chamber music at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited States [1] Beethoven, R. Schumann, Franck: Daniel Lozakovich (violin), Behzod Abduraimov (piano). Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 17.4.2024. (ES-S)

Violinist Daniel Lozakovich and pianist Behzod Abduraimov © Stephanie Berger

Beethoven – Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47, ‘Kreutzer’
R. Schumann – Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op.105
Franck – Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano

[2] Schubert, Adès – ‘Doppelgänger IV’: Danish String Quartet (Frederik Øland, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen [violins], Asbjørn Nørgaard [viola], Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin [cello]), Johannes Rostamo (cello). Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 18.4.2024. (ES-S)

Schubert – String Quintet in C major, D.956; ‘Die Nebensonnen’ from Winterreise (arr. Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen)
AdèsWreath for Franz Schubert

Two consecutive midweek concerts in Carnegie Hall’s smaller venues left audiences marveling at the outstanding quality of most performances organized by the institution. In the first, violinist Daniel Lozakovich and pianist Behzod Abduraimov, despite rarely performing together, demonstrated an unbelievable level of mutual understanding They delivered compelling renditions of three major sonatas that represent the beginning, middle and end of the nineteenth century.

With Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9, the two musicians demonstrated how deeply consequential this work was for the Schumann, Franck and Brahms compositions that followed it (they played Brahms’s Scherzo in C minor as an encore). The ‘Kreutzer’ is arguably the first composition that, with its weighty emotional gestures for both instruments, broke away from the previously ‘polite’ and ceremonious conventions of chamber music. Truth be told, the interpreters’ enthusiasm, raised by the quasi-symphonic writing, made them forget at different junctures that they were not performing in Carnegie Hall’s grand Stern Auditorium, but in a space much closer in size to a nineteenth-century drawing room – a space asking for more toned-down voices. After the turbulent first part, Beethoven presents an Andante featuring variations of increasing complexity, followed by a Finale characterized by mostly joyous major-minor interplays. Both movements are much more firmly anchored in Beethoven’s Classical past than the first part. Interestingly, the Lozakovich/Abduraimov duo attempted to extend the musical angst of the first movement into these calmer waters.

A late work, Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.1 unmistakably bears Beethoven’s legacy, as is evident in the composition and style. This influence permeates all of Schumann’s works, characterized by the internal conflict embodied in the two fictional characters that symbolize his artistic duality: the introverted and tender Eusebius and the bold and passionate Florestan. In the interpretation given by Lozakovich and Abduraimov, contrasting elements were discernible not only in successive sections but throughout the thematic transformation and development of the sonata form. Their performance alternated between moments of resolve and doubt, shifting from sections of fiery intensity and virtuosity that symbolized Florestan’s spirit to moments of introspection and lyrical beauty representing Eusebius. In the opening movement, Lozakovich played with fervent commitment. The serene melody of the Allegretto then gave way to exhilarating agility in a canon-shaped Finale.

As in the preceding works, the violin and the piano are truly equal partners in Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. The soundscape leaned less towards a proto-Debussy style and more towards a Brahmsian late Romantic one. From bold to reflective passages, the duo infused each phrase with vibrant hues, showcasing their mastery. Emotions were displayed without any heavy-handedness in an approach where each reoccurrence of a musical motif had its distinct identity.

One might have anticipated that this pair of young artists would lean towards music composed closer to our time, exploring works from the twenty-first century or at least the twentieth. Alas, that was not the case, except for a somewhat out-of-place second encore: a version for violin and piano of ‘Les Feuilles mortes’, a song by Joseph Kosma with lyrics by Jacques Prévert that Yves Montand made famous.

Danish String Quartet and cellist Johannes Rostamo © Fadi Kheir

In contrast, the following evening in the larger Zankel Hall, the Danish String Quartet, its members still young-looking some twenty years after their first concert, did indeed play a contemporary work. Commissioned by the Danish String Quartet with the support of Carnegie Hall among other organizations, Thomas Adès’s Wreath for Franz Schubert had its New York premiere here. It is the last composition presented as part of the multi-year ‘Doppelgänger’ series, pairing newly conceived works with Schubert’s late major chamber works. Adès’s quintet was coupled with its ‘doppelgänger’ – Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, which was its point of departure.

In his introductory remarks, violinist Frederik Øland revealed that Thomas Adès homed in on a single phrase from the second movement of Schubert’s quintet, using it as the cornerstone for his own composition. From this musical kernel, Adès conceived a single-movement work characterized by a meditative atmosphere, a steady rhythmic pattern and minimal dynamic changes. What distinguishes Adès’s composition is the continual evolution of harmony. Unlike the stability found in rhythm and dynamics, the harmonies undergo constant transformation without any easy identifiable repetition. The instrumentation is also notable: one violin and one cello play only pizzicato throughout, while the remaining string players use their bows to deliver their intertwined discourses. There is a constant interplay as the instruments react to each other’s phrases in a parameterized manner, dynamically affecting the length of the performance.

Eerie without being disconcerting, Wreath for Franz Schubert might mark an inflection point in Adès’s career, leaving one curious to see what follows from his prodigious pen.

The rendition of Schubert’s String Quintet, one of the absolute masterpieces in the history of chamber music, did not deviate from expectations. There were a few occasions, especially in the first movement, when the voice of guest cellist Johannes Rostamo did not fully blend with those of the other instrumentalists. Otherwise, it was a performance of great nobility with each phrase beautifully shaped. Special transitional moments were executed with remarkable naturalness, such as the seamless modulation to a distant D-flat major in the Trio section of the third movement, or the insertion of an anxiety-laden section, rich in expressiveness, within the Adagio.

Each of the performances in the ‘Doppelgänger’ series has included an adaptation for string ensemble of one of Schubert’s lieders. Here, to end the evening, was one extracted from the Winterreise cycle: ‘Die Nebensonnen’, transcribed by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen. With its repeated statements, each subtly varied, it could be perceived as an intriguing prolongation of the preceding Adès work.

Edward Sava-Segal

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