IN: Reviews

French Connections with Kwok and Yang


Violinist Sarita Kwok (file photo)
Violinist Sarita Kwok (file photo)

Temple Emanuel of Newton presented “A Celebration of French Composers” with Sarita Kwok, violin and Wei-Yi Yang, piano in Poulenc, Debussy, and Fauré on Sunday. There seemed to be a perhaps unconscious dream theme pervading.

Yang introduced the Sonata for Violin and Piano, which Francis Poulenc wrote during World War II at the time when the celebrated song composer lost his ally, the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. And it was this Lorca line that Yang wanted us to hear: “the guitar makes dreams weep.” More dream music on the Sunday mid-afternoon recital, a violin and piano rendition of Faurés’ Après un rêve and Debussy’s “Claire de lune.”

In this duo’s actual playing of these French oeuvres, dreaming did not happen. Rather, this highly polished duo set off in different directions, the violinist one way, and the pianist another. Both having attended and taught at Yale University might explain their teaming up.

Kwok performed on a violin from 1736 by Italian maker Johnnes Florenus Guidnatus. Sarita Kwok and this violin took on a nasal quality, and that seemed another clue leading to their celebrating the late 19th and early 20th century French.

Yang played Emanuel’s Petrof grand bringing myriad miracles to the smaller model. In fact, Yang accomplished so much at this instrument that you would have thought that he knew it inside and out.

Ideal acoustics in Temple Emanuel’s spacious, sphere-shaped sanctuary allowed every note of the recital a life of its own.

At the very start, Yang produced the angriest of chords in the first bar of the Poulenc sonata, catching the good-sized audience off guard. And off he and Kwok flew, she with a flurry of ascending, fear-filled notes. It was a treat hearing this underperformed work.

On the whole, the Poulenc felt like stereo coming from the piano, Yang inflecting every which way and that. His unlimited range of expression, his brilliant concept of phrasing, and his amazing agility to execute enthralled. Kwok’s directly pointed, finely tuned sound, mid-sized vibrato, and ardent bowing crafted a skillfully honed violin style of playing.

Kwok rendered the singer’s vocal line of Après un rêve (After a dream) in superbly polished form. She headed “toward the light,” which is the way the lyrics opens. Yang’s playing reflected on the ending words having to do with returning to the “radiant and mysterious night.”

Wei-Yi Yang (file photo)
Wei-Yi Yang (file photo)

Debussy’s “Claire de lune sped.” Its urgent restless stirring felt more akin to those feelings of romantic eagerness than those associated with calm moonlit night. The two were not quite together in the opening, the climax became nearly frightening. The duo sought and found something new for this popular evergreen.

Kwok introduced welcome lightness in the third movement of the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in A Major by Gabriel Fauré. In the final Allegro quasi presto Yang and Kwok created real interchanges that had them truly sounding as engaged partners. Overall in this early work of a more and more recognized musical figure, Yang found élan while Kwok often countered with reliable stability.

The Saul B. and Naomi R. Cohen Foundation sponsored this recital in Temple Emanuel’s superb space.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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