Hsiao-Mei Ku and Jane Hawkins gave their annual faculty recital in Duke's Nelson Music Room on October 19. They opened with a Fritz Kreisler showstopper: the Praeludium and Allegro (in the style of Pugnani), giving a brilliant reading that set the tone for the evening. The piano doesn't have a lot to do in this work written by a virtuoso violinist, often merely doubling or repeating the melody line or providing a continuo-type of support, allowing the violinist to shine, and shine Ku did.
The next work, Ludwig van Beethoven's Sonata in F, Op. 24, "Spring," was another cup of tea, however, giving Hawkins a chance to shine. The composer, being a virtuoso pianist, was not about to let his part recede into the background; indeed he called it and the others sonatas for piano with violin. He distributed the opportunities to display talent fairy evenly in this one, and both of the artists did so in a lovely reading, even if they were ushering in the opposite season.
After an intermission, Ku and Hawkins offered Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata, in g. It will be recalled that last year, Ku offered another of this composer's lesser known works with pianist Ray Kilburn as her collaborator. Ku told the story, perhaps apocryphal, of Tartini's dream of an encounter with the devil, who played a difficult work as a sort of challenge, and how he wrote down the work played upon awaking. Ku and Hawkins played devilishly well, although as with the Kreisler, the violin stands out a bit more than the keyboard.
The theme of a devilish dance continued with the next offering, Joseph Joachim's arrangements of the first two of his good friend Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dances, originally written for piano, four hands. Parts were more evenly distributed here, as with the Beethoven, to allow both of the musicians their moments of brilliance. These were followed by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Meditation," Op. 42/1, using a piano reduction of the original orchestra part. This work was originally written to be the slow movement of the violin concerto, as Ku told the good-sized audience that included a number of colleagues and students, but was published as a stand-alone when the composer wrote a different second movement for his Op. 35. It was well played but struck this listener as less effective that in its original form; the lushness simply can not be as well conveyed with the percussive piano as the partner rather than the strings.
Another showstopper closed the evening: Pablo de Sarasate's Spanish Dance ("Zapateado"), Op. 23. Unfortunately, it stopped the musicians in their tracks first. Hawkins had difficulty locating the score in her book at the outset, and apparently turned two pages of it at once part way along, requiring them to start over. Once they did, things went as smoothly as they had all evening up to that point, and the performance provided a fitting conclusion for it. Several bouquets were offered to the artists. Curiously, during the first half Hawkins had a page-turner who appeared to turn one page too late and another too early, endangering the Beethoven, the only work for which Ku used a score. The printed program contained good succinct artist bios but no notes on the works, for which Ku compensated in a couple of instances with oral comments. Mishap notwithstanding, Ku and Hawkins recitals give much pleasure and are not to be missed.