Sunday 29th September saw a jam-packed Tata Theatre in anticipation of legendary Japanese-American violinist Midori’s long sold-out recital. She had flown in from Colombo and played in Pune the night before. Nursing a cold her thorough professionalism saw her through the demanding programme with unflinching determination.
The audience erupted as the demure and diminutive violin diva appeared. They however continued to disrupt the formal flow of movements with unwelcome applause, something the two musicians on stage were clearly upset by.
The concert started and ended with Brahms. Launching into the Scherzo of the F-A-E sonata (the young Brahms composed this, the third movements of a collaborative musical work, for Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim) the characteristic repeated triple rhythm almost went for nothing. The violinist took time to settle in and even as the movement ended I was not sure that this craggy and truculent monolith suited this consummate artist best. Hers is a delicate vibrancy with no hint of the showmanship required in this early work of Brahms.
The middle of the programme featured two French masterpieces, Fauré’s luminous sonata no. 1 in A major. This was a stroke of imaginative planning more suited to the delicate musicianship of both violinist and pianist alike. It was good to hear this sonata rather than the ubiquitous other A major piece by Belgian César Franck. The first movement begins with an expansive melody for piano solo panned out across several octaves of the right hand. The violin joins in with a balance of elegant restraint and romantic ardour. The second movement in D minor in 9/8 time is a barcarolle Andante with a substantial climax. The Scherzo with light textures and heart-stopping cross-rhythms managed to be playful and wistful at the same time. The finale Allegro quasi presto in 6/8 time opens with a hauntingly lyrical A major theme first in the violin then in the piano. This cogently argued sonata-form movement played here with endearing simplicity and flashes of brilliance (witness the spiccato scales in the violin at the end) brought the first half of the concert to a close. There was an air of impregnability to the first half. It was not clear why so far there was a mood of reticence.
The second half was another matter all together. The short G major violin sonata was Debussy’s last major composition and was written in 1917. He died a year later of cancer at the age of 55 leaving his projected cycle of six sonatas for various instrumentations incomplete. He only managed to finish the cello sonata, that for flute viola and harp and this one. The first movement opened with sustained chords in the piano with a broadly flowing melody in the violin. The two instruments merged beautifully together in modal passages and arpeggiated chords. There is no traditional slow movement. The second movement Intermède is the most unusual blend of elements of scherzando with an improvisatory gypsy style. Here piano and violin interacted admirably with fleeting melodic episodes in unison alternating with burlesque staccato passages. The third movement brought back the opening theme of the first movement in the violin, launching into a new theme for solo violin in rapid triplets rushing across the stave. There is some detailed interaction between the two instruments before the violin ends the work with descending bravado scales. This piece written during the War, inspired by the sonatas of Couperin and Rameau rather than the late 19th century is a difficult piece to bring off technically and musically. Here it received an ideal interpretation.
The glorious third sonata by Johannes Brahms was the prize of the evening. This large scale sonata in four movements is dedicated to Brahms’ friend the composer and conductor Hans von Bülow. The first subject stated pianissimo by the violin in a long lyrical cantabile line accompanied by a simple syncopated accompaniment in the piano. The quiet violin cadence is shattered by the subject in the piano, subito forte setting the tone for the lyrical second subject, a romantic expressive melody still in the piano. The subtleties of scoring and interplay between the two instruments was simply breathtaking. The slow movement in D major has the violin singing a prayer to a warm chordal accompaniment from the piano. The hushed intensity and perfectly tuned double-stopped thirds were testimony to an exceptional artistry. The scherzando third movement gives the piano the main theme and then throws it to the violin with interspersed melodic fragments in a delicious repartee. Here the pianist was equally capable and the two left little to be desired in the presto agitato final movement. This movement is lyrical and stormy by turns and has a chordal stately melodic second subject. The two musicians by now were in full fettle while meeting all the technical demand though never sacrificing structure and musicianship. This was a remarkable interpretation and full vindication of Midori’s status as a global cultural ambassador.
Midori has had a superb international career since she was invited by Zubin Mehta to make a surprise guest appearance at the age of 11 with the New York Philharmonic in a New Years Eve Gala. At the age of 14 she appeared in Tanglewood under Leonard Bernstein in a performance of his music (his Serenade for violin, strings and percussion I presume). In 2008 Midori made her first professional visit to India playing Beethoven’s monumental violin concerto. She has been involved in international community projects promoting intercultural exchanges including India.
Her pianist on this occasion was Lithuanian born Ieva Jokubaviciute a perfect partner in the superior quality chamber music we heard. It is no small praise to say that she was fully equal to this demanding programme by turns supportive and where necessary leading the way. Also significant was the sheer musical values that were to the fore- no Paganini, no Kreisler! A warm thank you to all for making this possible and especially to the artists.