In advance of Friday night’s Y2 Duo Concert the versatile Singaporean Violinist Shuxiang Yang noted on his website, “Looking forward to sharing with y’all Zhuo Long’s super quirky Partita, as well as the good-ole warhorses by Ravel and Strauss!!!” Those with the good fortune to come to the visually restful and sound-bright venue of Chestnut Hill’s Church of the Redeemer to hear the thoughtfully programmed concert by Yang and his cousin, the accomplished pianist Esther Ning Yau, experienced a balanced yet vibrant collaboration.
Sonata No. 2 in G Major, M. 77, the second of two, and the sole one published during Ravel’s lifetime, took no little inspiration from jazz and blues. Yau’s lyrical playing of the opening G major Allegretto, ma non troppo, anticipated Yang’s soulful tones a few bars later. Much of this longest movement is dreamy: a conversation between the players, with hints of improvisation and jazz, ending in a quiet, almost magical whisper. Yang initiated the Blues (Moderato) A-flat major second movement with metronomic chords and plucks, picked up by Yau’s piano, facilitating Yang’s blues entrance of first melody to enchant for a bit, and then pass the blues melodies back and forth, with some reminiscence of well-known blues tunes, ending quizzically. And the G major Perpetuum Mobile (Allegro) provided an exciting finale in which Yau carried the melody and Yang left the audience breathless with his driving motor.
The music of Zhou Long (b. 1953) features a blending of northern Chinese folk tunes and style with traditional Western forms. His four-movement Partita epitomizes that aim. The first movement, Adagio, lyrical throughout, expects and received a seamless collaboration, as its folk tune overtones combine with romanticism. The second, Allegretto, seemed more a scherzo with presto portions, fitting in well with either the preceding Ravel or the Strauss, which followed, rather than what one might anticipate. Fittingly, the duo struck excellent balance, and the energetic, almost frenetic conclusion conferred an electric expectation, stilled by the Andante of the third movement, which, though a bit funereal and ominous in its exposition, is simultaneously soothing, with the piano dominating. The fourth movement, Allegro Vivace, has elements reminiscent of the last Allegro con brio movement of the Prokofiev Opus 94 flute sonata, alternating with quieter moments. Never mind, but Long’s final portion of the partita left the audience elated.
Attendees were not disappointed. Strauss’s Sonata, Opus 18 in E-flat Major for violin and piano, written in 1887 when he was 23, has garnered the attention of many a violinist, and here Yang’s expressive playing, mirrored with fine balance by Yau, did justice to the work. Yau established the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, with its initial piano passage, and Yang entered lyrically. As performed here, the early portion felt imbued with tristesse as written, and much of the movement can sound as a disconnect between the violinist and pianist, but Yang and Yau managed to have it flow, carrying it, ultimately to its excitedly optimistic, bravura ending. The middle movement, Improvisation: Andante cantabile, sounds spontaneous, though played as written, and in traditional ternary form. The violin sang, and the tone contributed to free expression, with a meditative ending. The piano introduces the third movement methodically, but this feeling then morphs into an enthusiastic allegro with demanding sections which both musicians executed with verve, ultimately reaching a bursting finale.
After encouragement from the audience, the artists provided a fittingly sweet rendition of the Amy Beach Romance for Violin and Piano, Opus 23.
Music at the Redeemer will present concerts in March, April, and May. Peter Sykes’s transcription of Holst’s The Planets on the new Schoenstein organ and Nightingale Vocal Ensemble’s “Windswept Seas” look particularly promising.