Thinking that putting Beethoven, Weinberg, Argerich and Kremer in a room will, without a doubt, produce something extraordinary is akin to film studios’ erroneous creed that a first-rate ensemble cast is bound to create an extraordinary film. Each member may play their role flawlessly, but that does not mean that the end result will be correspondingly dazzling. It may be the hyperbolical expectations of the audience towering above what is artistically possible, or it may just be that the script is weak, but with ensemble casts, the outcome, more often than not, is bound to fall short if not flat.

So, was that the case with Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation’s special concert featuring Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer in music by Beethoven and Weinberg? Well, yes and no. Yes, because the script was on the weaker side; but also no, because the performers – even if only briefly – managed to brush the limits of what is artistically achievable.

Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich
The evening, dedicating almost equal time slots for Beethoven and Weinberg, started with Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Sonata no. 5 for violin and piano, Op. 53. Martha Argerich’s yearning, clouded piano tone that started the Andante was answered with Gidon Kremer’s similarly soft and hankering violin. Weinberg’s ghostly melodies were fittingly served under a wrap of mystery and shade. The duo carried their bitingly dark tone into the second movement, and except for a lack of requisite barbarity in the middle dance section, the evening was off to a spectacular start. The sonata was given a perfect finish with Ms Argerich’s out-of-this-world handling of Weinberg’s devilish polyrhythms and Mr Kremer’s gracious and gentle accompaniment.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata no. 10 in G major, Op. 96 came next. The sonata is thematically one of the composer’s more playful, genteel works, but Argerich and Kremer gave us a serious and somewhat confined reading which, I think, worked better. Beethoven’s musical ideas here are too simple for his usual standards. Giving them a more somber flair elevates the music’s reach beyond the immediate and the obvious. The artistic mastery of the musicians on stage was on full display during the expressive Adagio, in which subtle mood changes in Beethoven’s writing were handled delicately and with absolute control of the dynamics. In fact, throughout the evening, Argerich and Kremer were more in sync in their mood and dynamics than they were in their timing – a testament to the often forgotten human factor in making exemplary music, which, nowadays, is more thought of in simple technical aptitude.

Gidon Kremer
Gidon Kremer
The second half featured the only piece for a solo instrument for the evening (including the encores, unfortunately): Weinberg’s Sonata for solo violin no. 3, Op. 126. For this enigmatic piece, about which there is little information available except the composer’s dedication (to his father), Mr Kremer had graciously written his own program notes in which he reimagines the one-movement work divided into six (or seven) sections. Gidon Kremer, in his first fictional movement, painted a stark father figure who is brute and coarse. He attacked his instrument with a raw force, letting go of gentleness and extracting short, strong bursts out of it. The second movement, which the violinist imagines as being a portrait of Weinberg’s mother, was, in contrast, filled with sweet melodies. This section moved over to the third part, which is about the composer himself. Mr Kremer toys with the idea of an innocent and sullied childhood memory which is represented by a simple and naïve tune. The sonata, from there, makes a sudden turn into a perpetuum mobile toccata that symbolizes the parents’ demise in the concentration camps. It is in the final minutes of the sonata, which Mr Kremer thought of as an “oneiric dance” or “a dialogue with eternity”, where the music receives this ethereal quality in which the performer is required to produce the most delicate sounds possible from the instrument. Lucky for us, our soloist was more than able to realize all of the composer’s intentions down to their tiniest detail.

Martha Argerich joined us once again for the final work of the evening, Beethoven’s jolly and humorous Violin Sonata no. 8 in G major, Op. 30 no. 3. The duo were completely relaxed, showed a lot of flexibility, and once again were careful to stay on the same intellectual page rather than the notations in front of them. With musicians of this caliber, it is the soul of the music that matters, not the mathematics, and Argerich and Kremer were nothing if not soulmates this evening.