Coping with crisisAccording to UNCSA publicity, “Violinist Kevin Lawrence and pianist Dmitri Shteinberg continue their long-standing collaboration in a recital” with a live-streamed concert from the Watson Chamber Recital Hall at UNCSA. Three incredibly contrasting works by Brahms, Shostakovich, and Adams from the second half of the 19th and 20th centuries made up the hour+ program. Each composition was in three movements.

The evening opened with the Sonata for Piano and Violin, in A, Op. 100 (“Thun” or “Meistersinger,” 1886) by Johannes Brahms (Germany, 1833-97). These subtitles (not by the composer) come from the town (Thun) in which the composer penned the work and the opening motive, which is similar to an aria from the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner (Germany, 1813-83).

This is a sunny work and is the shortest and of his three violin sonatas. Notice that “piano” precedes “violin” in the title, indicating that Brahms wanted it to be known that the piano was just as important as the violin.

A gentle opening theme sets the tone for most of the movement, which contains drop-dead gorgeous melodies. This may be the “most lyrical” of Brahms’ violin sonatas, but it certainly doesn’t lack in passionate outbursts. Lawrence and Shteinberg worked well as a duo, paying attention to subtle changes in tempo and dynamics, each matching the other’s music-making. Lawrence, playing with wonderful rhythmic freedom was complimented by Shteinberg’s sensitive attention to his partner’s lead.

The Andante tranquillo-Animato second movement featured delicate playing from Lawrence in the Andantes with the more animated contrasting sections highlighting the nimble fingers of the pianist. Rich chromatic harmonies make this movement a Romantic gem.

The finale Allegretto is primarily a leisurely-paced affair, although the concluding measures are ecstatic. The collaboration between the two musicians in ensemble and mutual support was first-rate. It seemed to this listener that Lawrence sought a rich, tender tone from his violin, often favoring the lower side of the pitch, infusing it with a healthy vibrato.

John Adams (United States, b.1947) wrote his violin sonata Road Movies in 1995 with the movements marked as I. relaxed groove, II. meditative, and III. 40% swing. Although Adams is often described as a “minimalist” composer, doing so understates the subtlety and creative invention of his compositions in an attempt to “label” him.

The opening movement is “a relaxed drive on a familiar road with the textures and patterns imitating the feeling of the wheels turning and the car humming along the road” (attributed to Adams). It certainly is an energetic foray into repetitive patterns. Motor rhythm and energy dominate the movement.

The slower, reflective second movement displays thinner texture, with piano and violin trading “melodic” and “accompaniment” licks. Sometimes the piano is the leader, and other times the violin, in the meandering journey. A memorable passage occurs in the middle, where the piano’s bass line is doubled by the violin.

“40% swing” is a bit of a misnomer – there is nothing 40% about the movement. Instead, it is an energetic romp with some serious fiddling (including some pyro-techniques) from the violin and non-stop rhythmic drive from the keyboard.

The entire composition is a test of collaboration: constantly shifting rhythms and patterns could easily derail less sensitive and talented musicians. No problem for Lawrence and Shteinberg.

Dmitri Shostakovich (Russia, 1906-75) wrote his Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134, in 1968 with original titles for the three movements: Pastorale, Allegro Furioso, and Variations on a Theme, respectively. However, all published editions assign only a Roman numeral to each movement.

The Andante opening movement is characterized by austere octave piano utterances, which are joined by the violin. Mostly dark, the movement explores different textures between violin and piano (often in very low and high registers). The ending is enigmatic.

The Allegretto second movement is more energetic and assertive, but also sardonic; it does not lose any of the darkness of the first movement. Some folk-influences penetrate the non-stop rhythmic energy, and flying fingers from both Lawrence and Shteinberg dominated the texture.

The final theme and variations movement brought the 30-minute work to a dramatic conclusion. The main theme is first presented by the violin, playing pizzicato. Varying textures and relationships between the two instruments’ material helped bring out the ominous mood. A hymn-like passage provides some relief.

Tension returns, slowly increasing in intensity until a virtuosic piano outburst, magnificently played, rushes headlong forward. Lawrence picked up where the pianist left off, in what ostensibly was a solo cadenza. Both keyboard and violin come together to quote the opening of the first movement, and an eerie passage that features soft violin tremolos concludes the dark work.

The Brahms sonata is certainly standard repertoire, but to partner it with the Shostakovich and Adams was inspired. And to perform all three with such finesse was outstanding.