Dallas — Ludwig van Beethoven wrote all but the last of his 10 violin and piano sonatas within five years when he was in his late 20s and early 30s. He wrote the earliest of the sonatas for “piano with violin accompaniment,” which is not, of course, how they are usually performed now: we may tend to think of them the other way around, as violin solo vehicles that just happen to have a piano accompaniment. But in many of the sonatas (the No. 9, or “Kreutzer” sonata being a notable exception), the piano parts are more technically demanding than the violin parts.
Thus, in performances of these sonatas, it is critical to have a pianist at least as formidable as the violinist. Saturday’s recital by violinist Emanuel Borok and pianist Alexander Kobrin offered a formidable pianist, indeed. Borok is well known to many local concertgoers as the former concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, while Kobrin was a gold medalist in the 2005. Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
The collaboration turned out to be a brilliant stroke—Kobrin’s playing is subtle, musical, and nuanced, and best of all brought out Borok’s best. Playing alongside a pianist half his age seems to suit Borok. In recent chamber outings, he has sounded less than technically secure, and it seemed as if age had perhaps diminished his abilities. However, on Saturday, he was on his best game, and the enthusiastic, large crowd whooped and hollered their appreciation to him and Kobrin.
This concert, part of the Meadows School’s Faculty Artist and Distinguished Alumni Recital Series, was the first of a planned three-concert series presenting all ten of the sonatas. Saturday evening’s concert included Sonatas Nos. 1 and 3 (Op. 12), 4 (Op. 23), and 8 (Op. 30).
There were some technical issues, especially in the opening Presto of the Sonata No. 4 and the third movement Allegro vivace of the Sonata No. 8. But for the most part, the duo handled the substantial program with aplomb. Kobrin masterfully adjusted to suit the changing moods of each movement the duo played. Although Borok’s phrasing was occasionally workmanlike rather than elegant, more often he approached the sonatas with alternating gruff ferocity and yearning sentimentalism, echoes of the opposing forces in Beethoven’s own temperament, perhaps.
This was a successful evening that certainly has many audience members looking forward to the next two concerts in the cycle, on March 7 and May 11, 2015, both at 8 p.m.
Still, this was a better concert to listen to than to watch: Alexander Kobrin is one of the few musicians who could make Emanuel Borok seem as if he has charismatic stage presence by comparison. Kobrin never smiled, barely even acknowledging the audience’s enthusiastic ovation. It’s as if almost his entire personality has been decanted into his playing, leaving little for his physical body. But what playing it is.