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The benefits and marvels of virtual concert transmission were on full display in this program played by Pinchas Zukerman and Shai Wosner. It took place at Merkin Concert Hall in New York and was sponsored by Chamber Music Detroit. This represents a full realization of the potential of virtual music-making which will hopefully remain an entrenched and rich practice after COVID is no longer with us and people are once again filling concert halls.
The Israeli violinist Zukerman was born in Tel Aviv and moved at age fourteen to New York. He has been performing for as long as most of us have been hearing concerts, having made his New York debut in 1963 when he was fifteen. He quickly became a renowned soloist and has made over 100 recordings. He is also well-known as a conductor and a distinguished teacher. His partner in this performance, Wosner, who is likewise from Israel, also moved early in his career to New York. He has performed with major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad and has recorded extensively for the BBC.
Both artists have been very active players of chamber music, and in this concert, they were heard performing two Beethoven sonatas. It was a sunny, upbeat program of about 45 minutes, well-suited, one might say, to buoying hopes for improving times to come.
The first piece was the delightfully up-spirit Sonata in D, Op. 12, No.1. Right from the opening of the first movement it was played with dynamism and perfect articulation. There was clarity in the interweaving parts with flawless give and take. The large dynamic contrasts were engaging as was the tongue-in-cheek quality of the humorous gestures, so much a part of this piece. The second movement Theme and Variations has fine long phrases. The performers were like two intimate conversational partners giving us the essence of chamber music, the simple joy of playing together. There was wonderful balance when the violin took over in the flowing second variation, and enjoyable mock thundering in the minor-mode third variation which followed. Their playing was ultra-legato in the fourth variation, and light little figures ended the movement with quiet humor. The third movement is a totally up spirit rondo, and it was played with panache. It also had finely drawn-out long lines and light-spirited figures in the coda.
After a two-minute pause, there followed Beethoven's fifth Sonata, in F, Op. 24. This piece is commonly known as the "Spring" sonata, due to its pastoral quality. It is, probably non-coincidentally, in the same key as Beethoven's sixth symphony, known by the title "Pastoral."
Again, the perfection of chamber playing was on display. The lyricism of the opening was countered by humor in the intermediate section, with its short-short-long figure. Later there were what seemed like little rolls of thunder (a springtime storm in the distance, perhaps?) in the piano bass; later still, excellent swells imitating between the instruments. The second movement was like a lush night under the trees. There was a wonderful swell from pp where the violin takes up the theme, and another beautiful shift of color at the entrance of the minor mode, with the piano a perfect murmur, a moment of magic. The third-movement Scherzo is barely a minute long, Beethoven being irrepressibly humorous. It had perfect light-spirited staccatos, matched between the instruments. The ending movement, a rondo, began with a wonderful smooth character, just the opposite of the previous movement. There was humor, with seamless shifting between melodious and energetic characters. In the minor mode, the potentially very busy violin part was ideally matched to the melody of the piano. The transition via a trill back to the theme in the major was perfectly-paced, followed by delightful light spirits shared by the two parts.
It is simply a pleasure hearing consummate artistry such as this.