While a well-known composer for his orchestral music, this was the first time I have heard a James Macmillan piece. It was a welcome introduction to his sound world. His Sonata for Violin and Piano, “Before the Tryst” is a 15-minute piece in one-movement that cycles through many different moods and colors. At its heart is a setting that Macmillan wrote in the early 1980’s of the Scottish poet William Soutar’s “The Tryst”. Previously, Macmillan used a melody from the setting in a shorter violin and piano work called “After the Tryst”.
“Before the Tryst” initiates with a whisper of violin harmonics and the percussive, almost inaudible, high reaches of the piano. Percussion and rhythm are vital to this piece – it almost feels like dance music. There are many trills (reminiscent of the opening of the Prokofiev sonata), slides, tone clusters, and other well used devices to paint a colorful canvas. While tonal, there are plenty of delicious dissonances.
There are sections of lyric quiet punctuated with aggressively anxious lines. Fittingly, it reminded me of a young person anxiously falling into an all consuming love, feeling both drawn-in and cut off at the same time. It is certainly a worthwhile entry into the violin repertoire.
Ms. Lamsma managed to dramatically capture all of the rhythms, particularly near the end. She played with a wonderfully scratchy, Stravinsky-esque tone. Mr. Kulek complemented this with a warm tone. The piece ends with a section of the violin hostilely interjecting long pauses until only the silence remains.
Prokofiev Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 is one of my favorite pieces of music, so it is always a pleasure to hear a live performance. It is a later Prokofiev piece started in the backdrop of the Great Terror in 1938 and completed in 1946 – David Oistrakh and Samuel Feinberg performed the first and third movements at his funeral seven years later.
Ms. Lamsma’s crafted a sarcastic edge and raspiness that served the piece well. In the first movement, she did an excellent job of keeping space and quiet within the piece – if played too quickly it can lose its brooding mood. One of the most successful parts of her recital was Ms. Lamsma’s virtuosic playing and fast tempo in the second movement. Mr. Kulek let loose in the fortissimos creating an urgent mood.
In the third movement, Ms. Lamsma’s mute on the instrument along with her tone, almost made her sound like the ghostly playing of a 1940’s record. This movement is Prokofiev in one of his most impressionist idioms. As I was listening, I could almost imagine the static from an LP and sounds of rain patting a window on a dreary day. The last movement ended the sonata with fast, rhythmic pulses, which finally gave way to one last whispering statement of the first movement.
Above: Robert Kulek, photo by Brabander Fotografie
After the intermission was Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18. While I personally have never had an affinity for this piece, this reading did make me see how important the piece was to Strauss’s development for his later symphonic poems. The piece is written in three movements with a dense piano part that the violin soars over.
Ms. Lamsma gave a muscular performance in all three movements, though managed to have still a spontaneous flair in the second movement. The violin playing had a warmer, fuller tone in the Strauss. At many points, particularly in the first and third movements, I felt as if this piece would work well as a concerto because the piano part has so much bundled in. Nonetheless, Mr. Kulek managed to give a transparent reading, with notably sensitive playing in the second movement.
The romance of the Strauss balanced the heavier first half of the program well. Clearly this young artist has an eye for thoughtful programming. As an encore, the artists treated the audience to a bonbon in the form of Samuel Dushkin’s “Sicilienne” (after Romanze from Weber’s Violin Sonata, Op. 10, No. 1).