Dallas — You’ve probably heard the legends about great musicians selling their souls to the devil in exchange for their musical gifts. Paganini, Tartini, and bluesman Robert Johnson were all rumored to have made such a pact: otherwise, the reasoning went, how could mere humans play so well? After hearing Augustin Hadelich perform April 4 for Chamber Music International, I realized we may have one more musician to add to this infernal list.
Make no mistake, Joyce Yang is a fine player, even an exceptional one. Her Silver Medal in the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition and her subsequent concert career have borne that out, as did her playing Saturday evening. Her performance of Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas Op. 2 was a torrent of notes woven into complex South American rhythms, and she never lost the propulsion and drive so critical to this piece.
But Hadelich was the star of the show. That seemed to be purposeful, given that the night’s encore was Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, an extended, tour de force encore for the violinist, but doubtless not much of an effort for a pianist as fine as Yang. (Although she did cut off premature applause masterfully during the encore, with a series of chords that clearly communicated “Hey! Not done yet!”)
Most of the evening’s performance was more egalitarian, including Stravinsky’s utterly delightful Suite Italienne, which uses themes from his ballet Pulcinella. The other truly collaborative pieces comprised the second half of the printed program. The duo’s innovative approach to the post-intermission offerings, including Franck’s well-known Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, was to play a set of minimalist pieces, Tre Prezzi by György Kurtág, immediately before the Franck. They played the two pieces attacca (without a break in between) and requested no applause in between the two pieces.
Yang shared with the audience that their purpose in juxtaposing the two pieces in this way was to give listeners a new way to look at the Franck. She characterized the Kurtág as like “seeing a great painting through a pinhole, one color at a time.” She also, helpfully, described the notation of the piece—that rhythmic durations were described as simply “very short,” “short,” or “long,” leaving the precise note length to the discretion of the performer. This explanation, especially given the absence of program notes, was helpful—and a nice contrast to the over-talking that often pervades performances of late. The duo hit just the right balance in the Franck—their interpretation was innovative and personal, the tone was magnificent, the balance was impeccable.
The absolute joy of the evening, though, was Hadelich in his solo turn on Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, “Ballade.” Ysaÿe’s six sonatas for solo violin are some of the most difficult pieces in the violin repertoire. Only the most daring musicians perform them live. And Hadelich, to use the vernacular, nailed it. His performance was undoubtedly one of the best, possibly the best, performance of any kind I’ll hear all year. This was the duo’s second performance with CMI in as many years—if a visit from the pair became an annual tradition for CMI, that would be most welcome.