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An intimate group of music lovers ventured out on a clear, chilly night and were richly rewarded as violist Rachel Yonan, faculty member of the Duke Music Department, and pianist Kwan Yi, a member of the Marinus Ensemble, performed in recital at Baldwin Auditorium. The well-crafted program included works by Arvo Pärt (b.1935), J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Robert Schumann (1810-56), and Ernest Bloch (1880-1959).
The artists opened their program with Pärt's "Fratres" (1977). Composed with flexible instrumentation, the piece has been performed by the Estonian early music ensemble Hortus Musicus (1977), duo Gidon Kremer (violin) and Elena Kremer (piano), wind ensembles, and many others, making it one of the composer's most popular and recognizable works. Yonan's playing was technically perfect as she tamed the wicked string crossings with musical strength and grace. Undergirding her with the harmonic structure, Yi's performance was surefooted without getting in the way.
String soloists rarely leave out the great master, J.S. Bach. Made famous by the cellist, Pablo Casals, the First Cello Suite, in G, S.1007, is a favorite among listeners and players of all stripes. But Yonan's viola tribute was exceptional. Enhanced by the very fine acoustics of the space, her instrument sent out gorgeous, ringing tones. With meticulous attention to the dance-like quality of each movement, she held me in a much-needed artistic spell.
Is it fair to choose a favorite piece in a program like this? Perhaps not, but I truly loved their performance of Schumann's Romantic Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (1851). This is one of the composer's late works, written during a brief time when he was happy and prolific. The work makes room for expressive playing; it is dramatic and finishes with elegant lyricism. With a truly collaborative effort, both players displayed virtuosity as well as love for the music. They played with the verve of chamber musicians while at the same time abandoning the religious overtones of Pärt's and Bloch's compositions. Schumann would surely have enjoyed this reading.
Yonan and Yi closed with Bloch's Suite Hébraïque (1951). A tribute to his life as a composer, this piece illuminates music that is deeply sacred and that allows us to hear the musical influences of his lifetime, including the voices of Mendelssohn, Brahms, and even Shostokovich. There are three movements: "Rapsodie," "Processional" and "Affirmation." Yonan's lyrical, singing tone gave the last movement a soaring finish.
I left the building warm and completely revitalized – eager to hear this bright young duo perform again.