Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and pianist Feng Niu produced a nuanced and varied recital at Monday’s Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts summer concert series at Burnes Hall at NEC, starting with Beethoven’s Opus 12 No. 1 sonata and ending with Ravel’s Tsigane Rhapsody. Yu, a recipient of both a 2019 Avery Fisher Career Grant and a 2019 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award and the First Prize in the 2010 Yehudi Menuhin competition, is a joy to hear and a treat to watch. He is not only a superb violinist but practically embodies each piece, given his wide range of his facial expressivity. In contrast, the quietly expressive and precise pianist, Niu, currently a DMA candidate at NEC, emanates strong support and imaginative collaboration. One hopes they will perform together frequently.
The violin dominates Beethoven’s 1797 D Major sonata, Op. 12, No.1, despite its label “for fortepiano and violin.” The composer dedicated the work to Salieri, who just a few years later briefly instructed him about opera; indeed, some of Opus 12 evokes Salieri. The violin and piano set out together in the first movement, a spirited Allegro con brio, which can sometimes seem heavy handed, no matter how well played; but Yu and Niu executed it with panache. The theme and variations of the Andante con moto, despite its straightforward melody, provided diverse imaginative opportunities for partnering. The 6/8 time of the Rondo imparted a much-appreciated lightheartedness and seemingly fueled the rest of the evening.
Britten wrote his Suite Op. Six by for violin and piano, from 1934-5, at the age of 21. In its original form of introduction plus four movements, it seems far more eclectic and adventuresome than much of his later work. Apparently difficult of gestation, Britten came back to it much later in life (1976), repurposing it in a 3-movement form. We heard the original—a bonbon with lots of hints and harmonics. Watching Yu’s expression as he played constituted bonus commentary. The Introduction created a brief outline of the other movements, delicately played here. The Allegro maestoso, somewhat sly and jaunty, wafted in an understated way. The Moto Perpetuo came across with hold-on-to-your hat verve, while the tender and lyrical Lullaby, Lento tranquillo proved true to its name. The last movement parodies a Viennese Waltz. Yu and Niu showed themselves to be masters of its many challenges.
The memorable debut of César Franck’s celebrated A Major Sonata for Violin and Piano adds to its appeal: a mature Franck wrote the work in 1886 as a wedding gift for the violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe and his bride, Louise Bourdeau de Courtrai. As Franck was not going to the wedding, he had a mutual friend Charles Bordes, present it to Ysaÿe on the appointed day. Accounts note that the bridegroom and sister-in-law of the messenger, pianist Marie-Léontine Bordes-Pène, played the work at the reception, following the briefest of rehearsals. The four movements count among Franck’s best known, lyrical and lovingly played at this hearing. After Niu briefly introduced the sweet and gentle Allegretto ben moderato, Yu established its central core. The turbulent Allegro, seemed decisively exciting, and one could understand why many feel it is the “true” start of this particular sonata. Yu shone in the improvisatory Ben moderato: recitativo-Fantasia, ably aided by Niu. The final Allegretto poco mosso, rondo-like with its canonic style proved irresistible. The audience roared its approval.
Ravel’s showy Tsigane Rhapsody (1924), a sure-fire close, likely took inspiration from its dedicatee Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi. It evokes gypsy music, but with a quieter flare. Yu clearly reveled in it, and bravos resounded at its end.
Much to everyone’s delight, the performers then brought tremendous verve to the well-known Csárdás by Vittorio Monti. The many musicians in the audience as well as the civilians had shared a welcome and happy celebration.