CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN SCORE IS A WORK OF GENIUS
By Lawrence Budmen
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) created some of his most memorable masterpieces in his final years. His last song cycle "Die Winterreise" is a powerful study of a love sick individual whose depression turns to madness. The contemporary Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (1955- ) has based his composition for violin and piano "Wie Der Alte Leiermann" ("Like the Old Organ Grinder") on one of the final songs in the Schubert cycle. The result is a work of genius! Desyatnikov's brilliant reinvention of Schubert's music received its Florida premiere as part of a fascinating duo-recital by the Russian Israeli violinist Yuval Waldman and pianist Paul Posnak (of the University of Miami's Frost School of Music faculty) on January 23 at the UM Gusman Concert Hall - a presentation of Miami Civic Music Association.
Desyatnikov is a prolific composer whose output includes symphonies, oratorios, chamber music, and an opera "Poor Lisa." Moscow's renowned Bolshoi Opera will give the premiere of his new opera "Rosenthiel's Children" this spring. In early February he will be the Distinguished Guest Composer at the Winnipeg New Music Festival, where his music is being promoted by the brilliant young Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko. Perhaps Desyatnikov is best known in the West as the composer of the score for the powerful Russian film "Prisoner of the Mountains" and as the arranger-orchestrator for Gidon Kremer's concert version of "Maria de Buenos Aires," the opera by modern tango master Astor Piazzolla. In "Wie Der Alte Leiermann" Desyatnikov takes Schubert's musico-dramatic idea and brings it to a new level. The Schubert song is played more or less verbatim in the piano line while the violin writing weaves into ever more harsh dissonance and disorientation - a portrait of the descent into madness of the principal character. At its conclusion the music seems to expire. The combination of pianistic lyricism and bracing violin cries is both powerful and mesmerizing. With remarkable economy of means, Desyatnikov has created a masterpiece. Yuval Waldman gave a searing performance of the demanding violin writing. Posnak played with sensitivity, intelligence, and musicality. An important premiere by two dedicated artists!
Waldman and Posnak offered another South Florida premiere - "The Minotaur" - a violin-piano work by jazz legend Dick Hyman (1927- ). Hyman is one of the world's great jazz composer-pianists and has written the scores for many of the films of Woody Allen (a jazz musician in his own right). The score is dedicated to Waldman who described the music as "Middle Eastern, Greek jazz." Hyman's violin writing has the effervescence of Stephane Grappelli and the elegance of Fritz Kreisler. This score is utterly delightful - a melodically inspired classical-jazz fusion. Waldman reveled in the flamboyant, gleaming violin line. He played with glowing tone and fiery virtuosity. Posnak played the piano writing with the virtuosity of Hyman! A brilliant exponent of the piano improvisations of George Gershwin, Fats Waller, and Jelly Roll Morton, Posnak's wonderfully idiomatic, bluesy playing was a joy to hear. A gem of a score in a stellar performance!
Waldman is a deeply probing artist who, generally, eschews violinistic fireworks for perceptive musicality. His thoughtfully conceived, idiomatically informed performances recall such violinists of the past as Zvi Zeitlin, Suzanne Lautenbacher, and Edith Peinemann. His versions of Manuel de Falla's "Canciones Populares Espagnolas" and the Spanish Dance from "La Vida Breve" (arranged by Fritz Kreisler) were slightly too tame despite Posnak's lively, stylistically informed pianism. (Last season the underrated violinist Gilles Apap gave sultry, dazzling performances of these scores in South Florida.)
The "Sonata in G Major" for Violin and Piano, Opus 30, No.3 received a patrician reading from Waldman and Posnak. This charming work (composed in 1801-02) finds the thirty something Beethoven writing in a lyrical, bucolic manner Waldman shaped the thematic material of the opening Allegro assai with masterful spaciousness. He brought aristocratic nobility to the Tempo di Menuetto. Every note was beautifully phrased with a sense of musical inevitability. It was as if the artists were creating the music as they played! There was Gypsy fire and finely etched classicism in equal measure in the Hungarian flavored Allegro vivace finale. Posnak gave a superb performance of the important keyboard part. (The piano is a full and equal partner in Beethoven's sonatas - not a mere accompaniment.) He brought power, sensitivity, and a wonderful sense of dynamic contrast to the music. A wonderful performance of a great Beethoven sonata!
The "Sonata in A Major" for Violin and Piano by Cesar Franck (1822-1890) is musical Romanticism in full bloom. Franck was equally influenced by the music of Richard Wagner and spiritual mysticism. Like his great "Symphony in D Minor," this 1886 sonata is in cyclical form with dominant themes recurring throughout the score in multiple movements. From the first hypnotic rumblings of Posnak's piano, it was obvious that this was going to be a performance that gave full rein to the passion and romantic ardor that sings at the heart of the score. While Waldman is not the most virtuosic of violinists, he plays with tremendous fervor. The opening Allegretto moderato literally burned with the intense fire of inspiration. There was tempestuous fury in Waldman's rendition of the second movement Allegro. The calm and rapt spirituality in the Waldman-Posnak duo's version of the haunting Recitativo-Fantasia set the stage for an invigorating performance of the Allegretto poco mosso with its wonderfully lyrical theme singing gloriously from Waldman's violin. Posnak's brilliant, fiery pianism was the essence of idiomatic 19th century Romantic style.
Waldman and Posnak offered a stimulating program of wonderful music - both new and old. Their performances of Franck and Beethoven made the music come alive anew. Their greatest contribution was the performance of new masterpieces by Leonid Desyatnikov and Dick Hyman. A model of inventive programming!