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A threatening winter advisory did not greatly reduce the audience in the Sunrise Theater for the 2013-14 season finale of the Classical Concert Series, presented by the Arts Council of Moore County. Two rising stars, violinist Bella Hristova and pianist Amy Yang, presented a delightful program with two of the best sonatas of Beethoven (1770-1827) sandwiching two short selections by two of the greatest 20th century composers, Witold Lutosławski (1913-94) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-92).
Bella Hristova was born in Pleven, Bulgaria, in 1985 and began studying the violin at the age of six. She entered the Curtis Institute of Music in 2003 where she studied with Ida Kavafin. She then studied with Jaime Laredo at Indiana University where she received her Artist Diploma in 2010. Hristova has a growing international career and received a prestigious 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant. Among earlier awards was the First Prize in the 2009 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Her instrument is a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin once owned by the violinist Louis Krasner.
Hristova met pianist Amy Yang at the Curtis Institute of Music and they developed a fruitful musical relationship. Yang also studied at the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music. Among her teachers were Timothy Hester, Claude Frank, Robert McDonald, and Peter Frankl. She was a First Prize winner at the National Chopin Piano Competition. Yang founded the Schumann Project in 2011 with the goal of presenting Schumann’s complete solo piano, chamber, and vocal works.
The "Spring" Sonata (No. 5, in F, Op. 24, 1800-01), redolent of Beethoven’s love of nature, is filled with delightful melodies and a sunny spirit. It is one of the few of his ten violin sonatas in four movements. The radiant opening Allegro starts with one of the most memorable melodies in the repertoire, some ten bars taken up by the violin and the piano, in turn. A simple but warm and expressive slow movement is followed by a quirky, off-beat Scherzo in which the instruments play tag with the themes. The bubbly finale is a rondo that plays with a number of themes and rhythms.
The gorgeous warmth of Hristova’s tone was instantly apparent with her opening solo entrance. Her intonation was excellent, and there was no lack of power in ff passages in later movements. Both Yang and Hristova had superb articulation while the balance with the piano, with its lid fully raised, was perfect. The give-and-take between the players was a constant pleasure, such as the gentle conversational tone of the slow movement and the playful fast runs in the scherzo.
Lutosławski’s Subito (1992) was the composer’s final piece for the violin and his last completed composition. German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter inspired the Polish master to focus upon the violin late in life, when he was 71. Subito was commissioned by the World Life & Accident Corporation in Richmond, Indiana, as a compulsory piece for contestants in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. It was premiered by 16 semi-finalists in 1994. The piece is a catalog of abrupt twists and turns involving various rhythms, dynamics, and modes of attack while still containing elements of the composer’s mature use of chain form.
Hristova and Yang turned in a spectacular aural and visual performance of this trying trial piece.
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is one of the seminal masterpieces of the 20th century. It was composed in Stalag VIIIA, a Nazi prisoner of war camp, in Silesia. The composer only had a piano, violin, clarinet, and cello at his disposal; the work’s eight movements exploit each instrument in pairings, solos, and as a quartet. Messiaen’s deep mystical Catholic faith radiates throughout the score. Hristova chose to play a transcription for violin of the Fifth Movement, "Praise to the Immortality of Jesus," originally scored for cello and piano. The work evokes the transcendence and joy of eternal redemption. The rapt violin melody is spun above the piano’s pulsing chords which convey forward movement. The violin’s final note fades into silence, suggesting infinity.
After allowing for the sound of a violin instead of the usual cello, the duo’s performance was deeply moving, combining the seamless melody of the strings and the throbbing “heart” of the piano.
The “Kreutzer” Sonata (No. 9, in A, Op. 47) is Beethoven’s best known and most often programed violin sonata. A slow introduction leads into a fiery first movement followed by a long, elegant, and noble Andante” and an exuberant “Presto” based on the Italian tarantella.
Hristova was by turns intense and fiery, with powerful attacks, or elegant and hushed, as demanded by the score. The pizzicatos were a particular pleasure, and the five variations in the middle movement were a constant source of delight for eyes and ears.
Like the rest of this winning program, the work was given a wonderful passionate and stylish performance. In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, Hristova and Yang gave “Danny Boy” as an encore.