As I headed for my car to go to this concert, I noticed dramatic lightning reaching across the sky under dark threatening clouds. By the time I got to Meredith College, I was pelted by hail and a serious downpour. Reaching the hall, damp but ready for the evening, I was lucky to get one of the very few remaining seats in Carswell Concert Hall. Not long after, all the seats were gone, and people started camping out in the aisles. Violinist Yang Xi and pianist Kent Lyman, two well-known local musical luminaries, might have chosen a bigger hall for this show! It was gratifying to see such support for good Classical music, even when getting to the hall was none too easy. There were many young people here, especially very young, which was quite encouraging in this time of reduced exposure to Classical music in our schools. When I was in public elementary school, everyone learned how to read music – not something so common these days, 50 years later.
The program started off with two familiar works. Up first was the Variations on a Theme of Corelli by Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler, based on the Gavotte from Corelli's Sonata No. 10, Op. 5. This was one of the compositions Kreisler published in 1905 that he attributed to Baroque composers, a ploy he got away with for about 25 years. This was not bad for a gag well-suited to poking some fun at the necrophilia so common in the Classical music field. (Just as with religions, if it is old and from far away, it has automatic status.) Kreisler's pieces have fared much better in the concert halls than the large majority of the works after which they are modeled, and that is much to his credit. Such subterfuge would not be practical or possible in our information age, but in the dawn of the recording era, curve-balls like this could and were quite easily thrown.
Xi's brilliant tone and clear articulation, something in evidence all evening, served this piece well. (One should note that his style of performance was in the modern manner, not Kreisler's, which would be considered rather odd and sentimental for our ears today.) Also true through the night was Lyman's choice to use the short stick on the piano lid, something I wish more pianists would do when playing with an intrinsically softer instrument. His touch was subtle and never drowned out the violin.
Next came Beethoven's Violin Sonata in F, Op. 24 (1801) also known as the "Spring." This is known to pretty much all violinists and is, therefore, its own kind of challenge: to bring something new to the music and make it worth visiting again. That was not a problem here, as the performance seemed fresh and inviting, done with enthusiasm and grace. The brief third movement is always a treat as the piano and violin chase each other up and down.
After intermission, we were treated to the very brief two-movement Sonata No. 12 for Violin and Piano in E minor, Op. 3, by Niccolò Paganini. This was arranged from the original for violin and guitar, both instruments played by Paganini. After a gentle and melancholic Andante innocentemente, there was a lively Allegro vivo e spirito featuring a dazzling passage with left-hand pizzicato. For those who haven't played a bowed string instrument, usually pizzicato is done by plucking the strings with the right hand, which holds the bow. Plucking the strings with the left hand is considerably more challenging, and is quite the virtuosostic move if done up-tempo. Paganini was never shy about throwing something in for show business purposes!
The final selection was Sonata for Piano and Violin in D minor, No. 1, Op. 75 by Camille Saint-Saëns. This is a real gem in the literature of violin sonatas, although perhaps not up to the celestial estimation of its none-too-modest composer, who opined that "all the violinists will seize on it, from one end of the earth to the other." That would be a daunting operation, as the last of its four movements is ferociously difficult for both performers. (It is true, however, that both ends of the earth were, in fact, represented on stage tonight, and in much of the audience.) Our duo took this on at a breakneck pace, and pulled it off quite well, resulting in an affectionate standing ovation.
Many thanks to Meredith College for having both Xi and Lyman to instruct their students, and for hosting this quite enjoyable concert.