Sunday’s offering for the Frederick collection’s 29th Fall Season featured pianist Shuann Chai in her seventh appearance here, this time upon the Collection’s 1830 Tröndlin, and violinist Shunske Sato, making in his Frederick debut on his 1846 French violin made in Paris by Auguste Bernardel, using his ca. 1800 anonymous English bow. You can read more about the piano, its maker, and his Leipzig company in an earlier review [here]; it was Felix Mendelssohn’s preferred make, and the recital opened with his Sonata in F Minor for piano and violin, Op. 4, composed in 1823 when he was 14 and published in 1825, the only one of his three to have been given an Opus number and published during his lifetime.
The work is in many ways atypical of the genre in that it is predominantly calm and contemplative with only a few occasional showy virtuosic moments and passages, mostly in the final movement: Allegro agitato. It opens with a violin solo Adagio, with the piano joining for the Allegro moderato that is not particularly fast, and the central movement is also marked Adagio. There are several of the composer’s characteristic lovely melodies throughout, but these are quiet rather than soaring ones. It deserves to be heard more frequently, as does the work that followed, Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D. 574, called the “ Grand Duo,” composed in 1817 when he was 19, but not published until 1851, 23 years after his death. It is similar in nature, predominantly calm and contemplative, but in four movements, with the second a Scherzo: presto that is showier and provides a balance to the concluding Allegro vivace. It, too, is full of lovely melodies.
The second half was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata in A Minor for piano and violin, Op. 47, “Kreutzer,” composed in 1802-03. Chai told the story of its dedication prior to the performance: it was written for, dedicated to, and premièred by the then famous but now forgotten English virtuoso George Bridgetower in his Vienna début with the composer at the keyboard, but in an after-concert party the two had a disagreement and Beethoven changed the dedication to a violinist whose name he had heard but did not know, and who never played it because he was not capable of doing so. The well-known and oft-performed work is a marked contrast with the other two (although it opens, like the Mendelssohn, with a violin solo, albeit briefer), highly virtuosic with many internal extremes, the Prestos that conclude the opening movement and form the third Finale surrounding the central Andante con variazioni, itself inherently diverse and demonstrative, even if at a slower pace.
Throughout the performance, the concentration, communication, and ensemble of the duo were remarkable. The audience was essentially held breathless in awe and greeted the musicians with standing ovations at the break and the conclusion.
Both musicians have extensive international credentials and we hope they will return here together again. Both also play modern repertoire; indeed, Sato said that this violin used to be his ‘modern’ instrument, but he decided to fit it with a gut set-up and make some small modifications because its date was so close to that of the piano and the repertoire of today’s program, and it did indeed suit it well and balance perfectly with the piano that was already a teenager when the violin was made. The piano also suited the music perfectly, even if it was not exactly contemporaneous. For the second week in a row, I felt that I had heard the finest and most beautiful performance of a Beethoven chestnut that had ever entered my ears.