Thursday January 2nd, 2017 - Tessa Lark (above), a distinctive beauty, offered a diverse program tonight at Weill Hall; Roman Rabinovich was the evening's pianist. Ms. Lark wore a form-fitted one-piece trouser outfit, with bare shoulders - and she has the figure to carry it off. A large contingent of Asian music students packed the gallery; they were well-behaved - and very enthusiastic.
Schubert originally called his Sonatina in D Major, D384, Op. posth. 137, No. 1, a “violin sonata” but when it was published it in 1836, it was re-titled “sonatina”, implying a work easier to play and appropriate for home music-making. In the elegant simplicity of the opening Allegro molto, Ms. Lark displayed a winning mixture of lyricism and finesse. The Andante brings forth the songful Schubert, with Mr. Rabinovich very appealing in the movement's first aria; Ms. Lark replies with a lied of her own, and then the piano tune is repeated to the accompaniment of the violin's descant. The concluding Allegro vivace is a merry folk dance.
Ms. Lark gave the New York premiere of her own solo work, Appalachian Fantasy, this evening. The "Appalachian" style is derived from various European and African influences, including English ballads, traditional Irish and Scottish fiddle music, hymns, and a tinge of African-American blues. Commencing with a drone motif, Ms. Lark's Fantasy laments briefly before emerging in a buzzy dance that moves faster and faster, with toe-tapping vitality. The violinist charmed the audience with this homage to her old Kentucky home, and pleased the closeted country boy in me.
Witold Lutoslawski composed his Partita for violin and piano in the Autumn of 1984; tonight was my first chance to experience it live, and - to be honest - it thrilled me. In its five movements, the Partita offers up striking contrasts of colour and rhythm, and the playing from Ms. Lark and Mr. Rabinovich spanned the range of musical and emotional textures to striking effect.
From agitated urgings to droopy sighs, from a high kozmic plane to driven earthiness, the myriad aspects of the opening Allegro giusto immediately seized on the imagination. Later, scorching passions subside into a passage that resembles bird-song. A gorgeous and powerful sense of yearning rises up; jagged edges and ethereal shimmers come and go as this incredible music veers forward, played with great concentration and - often - intriguing subtlety by Ms. Lark and Mr. Rabinovich. Their performance evoked genuine acclaim, and the music has sent me in search of more versions of the piece so as to get better acquainted with it.
The world premiere of Michael Torke's Spoon Bread, a Carnegie Hall commission, opened the evening's second half. Each movement is named for an ingredient in the simple recipe for the classic treat - cornmeal, milk, eggs - which my mom used to make (we called it johnnycake, and doused it with maple syrup). This perfectly pleasant work was attractively presented by Ms. Lark and Mr. Rabinovich, with the central 'Milk' an appealing andante in which a high, shimmering passage stood out. Each movement was perhaps a trifle too long, but the violinist's affection for the music was clear and the piece was very well-played. The composer was present, and took a bow.
To conclude the program, Ms. Lark and Mr. Rabinovich (above) offered the Brahms 3rd Violin Sonata. For a die-hard romantic like myself, currently watching the world fall apart, this was just what the doctor ordered: nostalgic, and oddly reassuring.
Tonight's very attractive performance found both violinist and pianist in an Olde World mode of rich tone, creamy legato, and more than a dollop of mit schlag; their dreamy playing in the opening movement had a wistful sense of longing. Ms. Lark savoured the poignant violin melody of the Adagio which tears at the heartstrings whenever it is heard; both players were warm-toned and persuasive, with an especially lovely finish. The ebb and flow of passion in the third movement drew particularly fine playing from Mr. Rabinovich. In the concluding Presto agitato, a fiery restlessness stirs up swift runs; the players spur one another on in a tarantella-like mode before a big buildup of energy carries them to a grand cadence.
Brahms wrote three violin sonatas, all for Joseph Joachim, the Hungarian violinist, composer, and teacher. It was Joachim who introduced Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann, and thus the link to this evening's encore - Clara Schumann's 1st romance for violin and piano - was particularly fitting. Ms. Lark and Mr. Rabinovich dwelt serenely in the work's poetic atmosphere.