Two young musicians studying and performing in Germany presented an interesting programme of piano and violin music at the Schumannhaus in Bonn on Sunday afternoon choosing three pieces which combined piano and violin in interesting variations. All three gave the lead to the piano – with violin as accompaniment. So the usual assumption that the violin should play the major role was given an engaging challenge.
It was Sarah Christian's 23rd birthday (yes the organisers did remember to give her a cake). She has been playing violin and piano since she was three – attending the David Oistrakh Academy in Ingolstadt from age six onwards. Competition prizes and awards have followed – in 2010 she won the Mendelssohn Prize. She plays a violin by Antonio Gragnani, Livorno, 1779, on loan from the German Music Instrument Fund.
Pianist Lilit Grigoryan was born in Armenia but has been living in Berlin for several years. An exceptional young talent she too has won international prizes and awards which have led to support from the “Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben” and London's “Keyboard Charitable Trust” among others. She took part in the Verbier Piano Academy in 2009 and 2010.
The duo started the performance with Mozart's Violin Sonata in G major, K.379/373a which he wrote late at night in Salzburg in April 1781. He played the keyboard part himself, giving the violin accompaniment to Antonio Brunetti, the Archbishop's concertmaster. The piece needs a good pianist to make it special and Lilit is a good pianist. The quiet beginnings of the first two movements are pleasant music, leading up to the third movement which gives the piece its definition. Lilit and Sarah understood the task and performed it well.
Next came Schumann's Violin Sonata no. 1 in A minor, Op.105. A much more emotional piece which was first published for piano and violin. The passionate expression “Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck” of the first movement provided a notable distinction from the Mozart sonata. The music takes the listener up and down quite often before the intermezzo leads into the third movement reminiscent of Mendelssohn. It is a piece giving an opportunity for the pianist to perform – it was premiered by Clara Schumann – and Lilit performed just as required. The lively ending of the piece was played to good effect with the full range of tone coming from Sarah Christian's violin. After such an engaging performance, it is hard to understand why Schumann himself was apparently displeased with the work – which is why he wrote a second one.
Schubert's Fantasy for violin and piano in C major, D.934 ended the programme. This quite long piece did not go down well in 1827 when the composer's friend pianist C.M. von Bocklett, and the young Bohemian violin virtuoso Josef Slavjk first performed the work in Vienna. Schubert designated it for piano and violin. Perhaps it was ahead of its time and fell between what was conventionally expected of a fantasy, and what was expected of a sonata. But in Sunday's concert it provided the duo with the material to bring their programme to a fine finish. There was delicacy, colour and strength in their playing as a duo and as the music allows in the solo, virtuoso phrases. Look out for their names – let's hope the future allows them opportunities to play as well again.
The event was presented by the Freunde Junger Musiker in Bonn – Beethoven's birthplace and occasional residence of Schumann. The Schumannhaus is a library which also serves as a very pleasant place to hear music by today's musicians in Germany.
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