Thursday June 9th, 2016 - The International Violin Competition of Indianapolis presenting 2014 Gold Medalist Jinjoo Cho (above) in her Carnegie Hall recital debut with pianist Hyun Soo Kim. The program included works by three female composers, two of them contemporary: both Joan Tower and Ellen Taafe Zwilich were present this evening, seated in adjoining boxes, and each took a bow after her music was played.
The evening got off to a rather rocky start: Ms. Cho, in a striking deep-moss-green frock, had just started her opening solo - Joan Tower's String Force - when a small child across the aisle from us began acting up. The father waited too long to take the boy out, deadening the impact of the music and Ms. Cho's playing of it. If your child is still in diapers, there's no reason to bring him to a two-hour evening of classical music: so disrespectful to the artist, the music, and fellow audience members. And that wasn't the end of it: during the lovely, quiet 3rd movement of the Schumann sonata, the child could be heard yelling from the lobby.
Bella Hristova had premiered Joan Tower's Second String Force at her Merkin Hall recital in March 2015, but the original String Force was composed by Ms. Tower as the compulsory work for the 2010 Indianapolis Competition. The two pieces are similar yet have interesting differences; it would be fun to hear them played back-to-back sometime. Ms. Cho did a fine job with the 2010 edition, which covers a vast tonal range - often at high speed - and allows the player a chance to shine at ppp levels.
Pianist Hyun Soo Kim (above) then joined the violinist for music of both Clara and Robert Schumann. In Clara Schumann's marvelous Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Opus 22, our two musicians demonstrated their affinity for the romantic style, their voices entwining to poetic effect. The first romance, Andante molto, is calm and radiant; the second - Allegretto - is slightly darker in tone but more animated in rhythm. The final Leidenschaftlich schnell flows nicely over rippling piano motifs, the violin sounding sweetly with the line decorated by subtle trills. These Three Romances were among the last pieces that Clara Schumann ever wrote. Following her husband's death, she composed almost nothing more herself, instead keeping Robert’s music alive through her touring and editing.
Robert Schumann's Violin Sonata #2 in D-minor was written in October and November 1851; the composer is reported to have told a friend: “I did not like the first violin sonata; so I then wrote a second one, which is hopefully better.” The second Schumann is well-beloved, especially it's well-known second movement.
Ms. Cho and Mr. Kim excelled in the opening movement which begins dramatically, turns subtle, and then passionate. Things were going beautifully in the second movement when suddenly Ms. Cho stopped and began tuning her violin; this interruption of the flow of the work was unfortunate, especially as neither my companion or I had sensed any pitch issues. The players picked up where they had left off, making an effective statement in the hymn-like conclusion of the movement. With the extraneous distraction of the child in the gentle third movement, I could only admire the two musicians for gathering their sensibilities and and energies, giving a wonderful rendering of the sonata's concluding Bewegt.
The third female composer represented this evening, Ellen Taafe Zwilich, wrote her Fantasy for Solo Violin on commission from the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis; it was the compulsory piece for the 2014 competition, which Jinjoo Cho won. Earlier this season, my choreographer-friend Claudia Schreier and I were much taken by a performance of Ms. Zwilich's Piano Quintet by players from The New York Philharmonic at Merkin Hall; I was glad of tonight's opportunity to hear anther Zwilich work performed live.
This Fantasy has the violinist alternately bowing and plucking and sailing thru swift passages of fiorature, ascending to the heights and then plunging down the octaves like a cascading waterfall. Jazz influences are subtly woven in, and there are enticing lingerings and playful embellishments along the way. Ms. Cho was in complete command throughout, winning the crowd's shouts of approval.
John Corigliano wrote his Sonata for Violin and Piano in 1963 for his violinist-father, who reportedly said: "Audiences won't want to hear it. So what are you doing it for?" Well, tonight's performance was living proof that father doesn't always know best. The piece won first prize in the 1964 Spoleto Festival Competition for Creative Arts (the judges included Walter Piston and Samuel Barber) and received its premiere there on July 10, 1964. Corigliano's father did finally perform it, at a concert in New York City in 1966.
After a brisk, sweeping start, the Corigliano sonata's first movement alternates a low-key jogging pace for the piano with more intense rhythmic patterns. The violin writing shows a touch of the blues. The second movement features a recurring song-like theme, with a nice melodious quality. There's an emphatic interruption from the piano, then the song recurs: now the violin is muted. This Andantino ends on a high, fading note.
The piano passionately introduces the Lento, taken up as a soulful theme by Ms. Cho's violin; she has a long solo here, honing the tone down to a silken thread, ending very quietly. An ironic waltz sets off the final Allegro: piano and violin get into a skirmish, their voices swirling high and fast, with lots of coloratura. The music subsides into lyricism, re-ignites, simmers down again, then makes a race to the finish.
I very much enjoyed hearing this Corigliano work tonight, and the expert playing of it by Ms. Cho and Mr. Kim made it a highlight of this very interesting program. I love Corigliano's "Red Violin"; and I love the film of the same title, and also the 2006 Peter Martins ballet which was memorably danced by Jennie Somogyi and Sebastien Marcovici.
Silesian-born American composer and conductor Franz Waxman (1906 – 1967) wrote his Carmen Fantasie for the 1946 film Humoresque. Drawing on some of the best-known themes of the Bizet opera - the Habanera, the Chanson Boheme, and Air des Cartes - the work places virtuoso demands on both violinist and pianist, who managed both the seductive and the driven aspects of the music with equal success. There were passing moments of slightly skewed pitch from Ms. Cho here, but her overall sweeping command of the music - vitally abetted by Mr. Kim - carried the evening to a triumphant close.
- JOAN TOWER String Force
- C. SCHUMANN Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22
- R. SCHUMANN Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 121
- ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH Fantasy for Solo Violin
- CORIGLIANO Violin Sonata
- WAXMAN Carmen Fantasie