Sarasota Orchestra and Artist Series Concerts present two masterful performances.
Two concerts this past week were of particular interest to me. The first performance was a chamber music concert presented by the Sarasota Orchestra, and second was violinist Bella Hristova and pianist Amy Yang, presented by Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota.
Thursday’s chamber concert in Holley Hall featured two 20th century French works and Dvorák’s Piano Quintet in A Major. It opened with a Trio by Jacques Ibert, performed by Jennifer Takeda, violin, Christopher Schnell, cello and Katherine Siochi, harp. Ibert’s daughter was a harpist, and he wrote this trio for her. He has said he tried not to make the harp part too prominent, however, fatherly pride won out, and the harp indeed shines in this piece, which is a sheer joy for everyone. Siochi, new to the orchestra this season, showed a marvelous technique and mastery of her instrument in what was a lively performance all around.
Principal bassoonist Fernando Traba was featured in Jacques Françaix’s 1942 Divertissment for Bassoon and Strings, together with Samantha Bennett and Chung-Yon Hong, violins, Michael McClelland, viola, Chizuko Matsusaka, cello and John Miller, bass. This is a piece of musical fluff that is certainly far from that in its technical demands, especially for the bassoonist. Traba gave us a wonderful example of his technique and musicality, as well as the composer’s sense of humor, evident throughout the piece.
The concert’s highlight was the performance of pianist Lukáš Vondráček, whose illness forced cancellation of his appearance with the Sarasota Orchestra the preceding week. He was now well recovered, and his performance with the Sarasota String Quartet (Daniel Jordan and Christopher Takeda, violins, Steven Laraia, viola, and Natalie Helm, cello) of Dvorák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Opus 81, was a musical feast in every way. Vondráček is indeed a world-class pianist and the musical interaction between him and the quartet was palpable, resulting in an exciting performance of this venerable work.
Sunday afternoon, the Artist Series Concerts presented violinist Bella Hristova, winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and Young Concert Artists International Auditions, in recital, together with pianist Amy Yang. Hristova, Bulgarian born but American reared and educated, is an outstanding young violinist, whose appearances already include Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York City and many international venues.
Hristrova’s program included works by Poulenc, Ravel, and Brahms, as well as a contemporary piece by David Ludwig, who also happens to be her husband. His “Swan Song,” written in 2013 was premiered by Benjamin Beilman, who performed earlier this season with the Sarasota Orchestra. Hristova told us that “Swan Song” was inspired by Schubert, including several quotes from his violin works. It is both virtuosic and rhapsodic, with the alternating dialogue between piano and violin being at times lyrical and at others, bombastic.
Ravel’s Sonata No. 1 in A minor is an early work, although it was only published after his death. With its stream of consciousness impressionism and chords, it sounds more like Debussy than Ravel, yet it shows Ravel’s unique sense of color and personal melodic gift.
Throughout the recital Hristova played with great beauty of sound, melodic sweep, and flawless intonation, equally partnered by Amy Yang’s eloquent pianism. All were most evident in the final work, Brahms’ Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for Violin and Piano. This sonata is a work in which soloist and pianist are indeed true partners. Both Hristova and Yang offered intensity, technique and musicality equal to the magnificence of Brahms’ composition.
The Violin Sonata of Francis Poulenc, which opened the program, was written in 1943 during the German occupation of France. Even so, it still contains Poulenc’s wonderful Gallic and often quirky musical sense of humor, evident in all his works. Both recitalists performed it with expertise, musicality, and abandon appropriate for this underrated composer.
Yes, it was another week of musical feasts in Sarasota, with more to come, I’m sure.