in: Reviews

January 12, 2010

Weilerstein Duo Brings Warmth, Energy to Kalliroscope Gallery

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On Saturday night, January 9, the coldest temperatures so far this winter season did not prevent a capacity audience from gathering at Groton’s intimate Kalliroscope Gallery for a chamber concert of rarely performed works for violin and piano by Schumann, Ravel and Enescu. The listeners were rewarded with a warm and energetic, even passionate performance by Donald and Vivian (Hornick) Weilerstein, violin and piano.

The program exposed the audience to three styles not altogether familiar and not given to flashes of virtuosity, yet entirely musical and certainly virtuosic. Schumann’s Sonata No. 1 in A minor followed his better-known chamber works for strings and piano by several years and reveals a mature character that some suggest hinted of Schumann’s impending breakdown. The emotional shift from the intensely passionate first movement to a much lighter Allegretto and the quickly moving last movement is almost bipolar in its contrast. Nonetheless, the work showed off Donald Weilerstein’s fulsome violin tone and the combined strengths of the duo as they built dynamic textures of sound and expression that could rival larger ensembles.

Works by the two remaining composers, Maurice Ravel and George Enescu, enjoy a curious kinship that relates not so much to likeness of style as to a mutual admiration for each other’s musical talent, resulting in a combination of dissimilarity and compatibility. Enescu was legendary as a violin virtuoso and used a wealth of Romanian folk idioms in his music, while Ravel reached across Europe and even to America to enrich his basically French impressionist artistry. Both Ravel’s Second Sonata in G Major and Enescu’s Sonata No. 3 in A minor required the utmost of skill and alertness from the Weilersteins; the finales of each constitute tests of concentration and dexterity that they passed with unflagging and emphatic direction.

The audience also appreciated the ethnic flavors in the works – the Ravel sonata’s “blues” harmony and rhythms that were so popular with early 20th-century French composers, properly accented with scooped notes from the violin, and the distinctly Romanian melodic and harmonic modes and raw energy of the Enescu sonata.

One more surprise emerged: the Sarabande from Enescu’s Suite No. 2 in D for piano, but played by Donald Weilerstein as a movement for violin alone in a manner reminiscent of the Partitas for unaccompanied violin of Bach, whom Enescu much admired. Less truly polyphonic than romantic, the piece succeeded with Weilerstein’s secure intonation, multiple stops and that full tone, and was warmly welcomed.

For those unfamiliar with Paul and Mimi Matisse’s Kalliroscope Gallery in Groton, it is a hidden jewel among the region’s concert venues – accessible, inviting and even entertaining with its marvels of physical invention in various acoustic pipes, a wave table (the “kalliroscope”), a whirling light show and more. For the Weilersteins, now on the faculty of the New England Conservatory, Saturday’s performance was their first visit to the gallery, but it was surely not the last.

McLaren Harris is a former Boston music critic and long-time writer in public relations and communications for high technology and medicine.

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