David Southorn, violin, and Brain Hsu, piano.

Classical music gives me great joy, more so than any other style I’ve ever heard. I love to watch other people’s faces when they listen to classical music, just to see their expressions change with the mood of the music… Given the chance, I believe music can transcend all differences that we as people face, such as the conflict which exists between the “lower, middle, and upper” classes. I believe that classical music can, if not rid the conflict completely, then at least greatly reduce it. Unfortunately, the cure is also part of the problem. I realize that the crowd which classical music draws is, for the most part, rather arrogant. I suppose the wealthy have always controlled classical music, going back to the days of Beethoven, who relied heavily on patrons such as Count Franz Joseph Kinsky and Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz for monetary support, but it is a saddening truth all the same. I am lucky enough to live close to Bard College, which, for all the expensive classical concerts it hosts, also has many free concerts as well. I am also lucky to have a family friend who holds a series of classical concerts in his home every year (let me state that although he is wealthy, he is not arrogant in the least). Saturday marked the last such concert of the season, and was a performance by David Southorn, violin, and Brian Hsu, piano. Previous musical artists this year include Edward Parks, a baritone singer, and Andrius Zlabys, a pianist (you can find entries about both those performances in my blog archives).

Violin and piano is my favorite combination of instruments, and a smile spread across my face as I awaited the start of the concert on Saturday. The performers opened with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 for Piano and Violin in A Minor Op. 23. The first movement, Presto, opened by running nimbly through the bars of music. The passion increased as the movement progressed, yet the music never lost it’s delicacy. The movement ended with strong notes played by both violin and piano, followed by three softer ones, as though an echo. Next came the Andante scherzoso, piu Allegretto second movement. It started out hesitantly, before growing stronger. Chock full of trills, apreggios, and runs, the music wound it’s way through passages interspersed with staccato and legato playing. The movement closed by slowing down ever so much, before coming to a halt. That brought us to the last movement of the sonata, Allegro Molto. From the opening, the music flowed and swelled, as though the tide of a river. Through the course of the movement, my spirit was taken to a deserted island and through stormy weather, encountering pirates along the way. At times the music floated upward, like mist rising off the waves, before plunging headfirst back into the storm.

The second piece on the program was Eugene Ysaye’s Sonata No. 1 for Solo Violin Op. 27 No. 1. The music was enchanting from it’s first note (belonging to the Grave first movement), and was filled with gorgeous dissonance. Dissonance is a term generally used to describe music which is “harsh”, and to some, “unpleasant”, but Ysaye’s use of chords and musical progression created music which is both dissonant and beautiful, creating an ethereal sound which has an undeniable effect on the listener. The melody was mournful, and full of frustration, remorse, and despair, yet all the while managed to keep it’s lyricism! A genius work. I love pieces like that, because if you close your eyes, you don’t feel like you’re at a concert. If you close your eyes, you feel as though instead of hearing the music from outside your body through your ears, the music is inside you, and you’re hearing it from your heart. At least that’s what I feel… The second movement, Fugato, held more unrest than the first. The harmonies the composer used in this movement don’t just tug at your heart, they tear at it. I unfortunately missed the third and fourth movements, Allegretto Poco Scherzando and Finale Con Brio, because I was busy in the kitchen setting up liquid refreshments for the thirsty crowd to drink come intermission.

After intermission, the two musicians came back for a piece by Manuel de Falla, titled Suite Populaire Espagnole, which is actually a collection of works de Falla wrote based on Spanish folksongs from different regions of Spain. The first piece, El Pano Moruno, was incredibly passionate, and had a dramatic flair. Hypnotically gallant violin played a glorious melody, while piano played accomponiment. Second was Nana, which piano opens, before being joined by the violin playing a flamenco inspired melody (think Zorro soundtrack, but much, much better). The third work, Cancion, begins joyfully, then falls into darkness. It is then lifted once more, playing even more brightly than in the beginning. Fourth was Polo, during which the piano played repetitive notes, creating tension with the violin which was played fiercly and freely. After that came Asturiana, based on a folk song from the Asturias region of Northern Spain. The piano created a dream-like state and was played simply for the duration of the work. Had it not been, it would have overpowered the quiet beauty of the violin. Lastly was Jota (the jota is actually a rapid dance in triple time, performed by one or more couples and accompanied by castanets). The violin opened by playing plucked notes, and the piano played staccato throughout. The piano also played short glissandos and held a strong bass, supporting the violin which was full of joy and fanfare.

Next on the program was three works by Fritz Kreisler. The first work of his that David Southorn and Brian Hsu played was March Miniature Viennoise, or Miniature Viennese March. It opened grandly, and was a charming little piece  which flowed effortlessly. Piano played a march rhythm in the background as the violin rose above it. I wasn’t as crazy about the second piece, Syncopation. I found it rather boring, and thought it was a little pompous. I loved the last of his pieces though, La Gitana. Although a little show-offy, it was not pompous as the previous work was, and had an unmistakable charm about it. The piece was a gypsy song in waltz-tempo, and in my mind I had on a gown with off the shoulder sleeves, and I was dancing across an empty ballroom with my partner…

Last on the afternoon’s program was Brahms’ Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Minor Op. 108. The first movement, Allegro, was beautiful. It soared above the clouds, blending at times with the sunlight, but also held an understated darkness which, although was never full blown, you could sense in the musical score. It was darkly thrilling in a way only classical music can be. The movement ended with rolled chords on piano and a sustained note on violin. That was regrettably the only movement I got to hear, for I was once again helping to set up refreshments, this time for the conclusion of the concert. I was glad to have heard what I did though, and I enjoyed the vastness of styles and cultures represented on the program. I thought David Southorn and Brain Hsu had especially good musical chemistry together, and it was a delight to hear them.

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