PATRICIAN VIOLINIST STEALS SHOW AT CLOSE ENCOUNTERS CONCERT
By Lawrence Budmen
The music of the East has long exerted a spell on composers of the Western classical tradition. In the 18th century, Mozart and his contemporaries of the Mannheim school were fascinated by Islamic and Asian musical idioms. Westernized Orientalism reached its zenith in 19th century Russia with the works of such composers as Rimsky-Korsakov ("Sheherazade") and Balakirev ("Islamey"). In 20th century Spain Falla and Granados incorporated Moorish and Moslem influences in their compositions. Even a French impressionist like Debussy could not resist the sounds of the caravans and military bands to the east. In the 21st century this fusion of East and West has been given new meaning in the works of Turkish composer-pianist Fazil Say and the music of Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble This musical cross-pollination was the theme of the Close Encounters with Music concert of "Arabesques" on March 2, 2003 at the Biltmore Hotel's Danielson Gallery in Coral Gables.
Arabesques are musical ornamentations of a single note. Few composers accomplished this creative device better than Chopin and Mozart. It was the latter's "Violin Concerto in A Major," K.219 ("Turkish") that proved to be the highlight of the afternoon. Here Mozart created a typically elegant classical era concerto but added a quirky Turkish band episode (in a minor key) in the concluding rondo. Violinist Peter Zazofsky gave this concerto the performance of a lifetime. Zazofsky is a former Gold Medal winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition (Belgium). He is presently Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at Boston University. What has always distinguished Zazovsky's playing is his ability to play long musical phrases as one continuous arc of sound. He makes music rather than merely playing notes. Zazofsky possesses an aristocratic singing tone that brings to mind Mischa Elman. He attacked the concerto's opening Allegro aperto with vigor and precision. Every musical phrase had character and individuality. The second theme was played with broad rubato and a long lined elegance seldom encountered. The Adagio was all lyrical grace. The music seemed to sing from the violin as if it were a human voice. Zazofsky made the slow movement both poignant and moving. The sudden silences had a passion and power of their own. The concluding Rondeau (Tempo di Menuetto) had wit and charm aplenty. The music was all Rococo grace. Zazofsky brought strong, exaggerated accents to the Turkish episode which further emphasized Mozart's good natured humor. To top the concerto off, Zazofsky delivered a bravura cadenza of his own devising that combined impish quotes from Beethoven's "Turkish March" (from "The Ruins of Athens") and Mozart's "Rondo Ala Turca" (from the "Piano Sonata in A Major," K.331). He played the entire concerto with brilliance, passion, and soaring tonal beauty. No one has played this concerto like that since Jascha Heifetz. Zazofsky is one of the finest violinists of our time. He was joined by a chamber orchestra of students from the University Of Miami School Of Music. There was a wonderful rapport between soloist and orchestra. The young musicians played with spirit and stylish elegance. This was a one of a kind performance.
Earlier in the program Zazofsky offered Fritz Kreisler's transcription of the "Dance of the Persian Slaves" from Moussorgsky's opera "Khovanshina." Here Russian hypnotism with the Orient was joined by Viennese schmaltz. Zazofsky played this little bon-bon with rich tone, virtuosic pyrotechnics, and a real flair for Kreisler's syrupy distillation of Russian-Asian musical idioms. With his heartfelt, warmly lyrical playing Zazofsky clear stole the afternoon.
Close Encounters founder and artistic director Yehuda Hanani gave an impressive performance of Debussy's "Sonata for Cello and Piano." This score was one of the composer's last compositions. He had attended the 1911 premiere of Mikhail Fokine's ballet "Sheherazade" with music by Rimsky-Korsakov and designs by Leon Baskt. Debussy was ablaze with Asian exoticism after seeing this extravaganza. In his cello sonata, he combines the connected dots of musical impressionism with the sounds of Islamic prayers and chants - all accomplished with subtle variations of arabesques. Hanani brought his darkly burnished tone and keen musicianship to every bar of this complex score. He was undaunted by the rapid fire passagework and double stops of the last movement. Indeed he took the finale at a rapid clip. The difficult high lying passages and low bass sections had remarkable clarity. The score's flavorful mixture of impressionism and exoticism gleamed and glittered in this fleet fingered performance. Hanani's piano partner was Eliran Avni.
Hanani also offered a rare opportunity to hear two early works of Sergei Rachmaninoff. The "Prelude," Opus 2, No. 1 was a Tchaikovskian love song- very Russian and brooding. "Dance Oriental," Opus 2, No. 2 was a witty combination of Asian modes and Russian ballet music. Hanani gave beautifully mellow performances of these two vignettes. He also offered a real music chestnut - "Orientale" by Cesar Cui. Here were fanciful arabesques taken to the nth degree. Hanani tossed it off with warmth and virtuoso zeal.
Yehuda Hanani again presented a timely and thought provoking concert. Cultural diversity enriches the music of all artistic traditions. Hanani aptly illustrated how musicians' fascination with Islam and all things Asian continues to be a fertile creative brew. The concert was made special by the patrician violinistic art of Peter Zazofsky.