Dallas — There was a time, not long ago, when live concerts were commonplace; when those of us who write about music might go to two or three performances a week, and in a bustling area like the Metroplex, that two or three represented only a fraction of the music, theater, dance, and other shows that were on offer.
The most recent — I initially typed “last,” but decided I didn’t like the sound of that — live concert I attended was the Blue Candlelight Music Series house party concert on March 8. Artistic Director Baya Kakouberi helms this series at the stately Preston Hollow home of Richard and Enika Schulze.
Because of all the changes that happened just a few days later — I am a full-time college lecturer, and after this concert, it almost immediately became clear that I needed to begin the enormous task of moving all four of my classes online — this review wasn’t written.
To look at it now, the concert program, the notes I took, is to be hit with an almost overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the Time Before. I’m still getting notifications from my phone’s calendar that I should be leaving to get to concerts on time, concerts that were never happen now; or concerts that will be postponed until nobody knows when.
We’re all grieving for the world the way it was, I think, but most of us have acknowledged that this kind of grief is preferable to grieving for people, so here we are.
So, while this is a review of a fine concert by Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman and Russian pianist Pavel Nersessian, it is also a eulogy, for a concert season ended too soon, for all the concerts we’d looked forward to, for all the dinners beforehand, the drinks or coffees afterward, the hugs and handshakes (remember those?) at intermissions, the ordinariness of everyday life for those of us who are inveterate concertgoers.
There will be live concerts again, though maybe not soon, and to remember those from our past is to recall what is possible. So here we go.
I’ve long said that I judge musicians by the way they play Bach. And in his Blue Candlelight recital, Zorman began with the most iconic Bach piece for violin: The D minor Chaconne from the Partita No. 2. It is not only a test of a violinist’s technical skills, but also of their musicality. There are as many ways to play the Chaconne as there are violinists. While Zorman’s was certainly not a Baroque performance practice rendition, it was respectful. It was also very good. Zorman’s tone is exquisite, his technique utterly confident.
From this massive testament to the technical and musical possibilities of the violin, Zorman was joined by Nersessian for three little-known études by Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim. This, along with one movement, the “Nigun,” from Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem, were nods to Zorman’s Israeli heritage. Here, Nersessian proved to be a capable collaborator, with careful balance. Zorman has a huge sound in a relatively small space such as a private home, but still, it’s easy for any violinist to be overwhelmed by piano. Nersessian never allowed that to happen, enabling Zorman’s brilliance to shine through.
But in Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, he showed himself to be technically superlative, as well. This is a difficult sonata for both musicians and requires consummate musicality. Not every proficient violinist, in particular, can pull off the bluesy middle movement of Ravel’s sonata. But both Zorman and Nersessian shaped a fun, jazzy version of this well-known Impressionist work.
On the second half of the program was Cesar Franck’s magnificent Violin Sonata in A Major. It is a staple of the violin repertoire that has been transcribed for at least nine other instruments, from flute and viola to bass and tuba. The sonata in its original form was an 1886 wedding present from the composer to the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, whose enthusiasm about the sonata helped Franck become known as an important composer.
Zorman chose some unusual bowings and both he and Nersessian chose some offbeat articulations that added interest to this often-performed sonata. Only in the second movement did the pair falter — even the finest violin can be pushed too hard, and Zorman’s sound was sometimes forced, perhaps in response to Nersessian’s own overly-vehement dynamics. But overall, this was a delicious performance of one of the best-loved sonatas in the violin and piano repertoire.
The pair closed the night’s recital with Henri Vieuxtemps’ Souvenir d’Amerique: Yankee Doodle Variations Burlesques. This is a playful bit of fun that still requires astonishingly prodigious technique, and Zorman and Nersessian delivered.
How we took for granted such things as sitting in a pretty room, listening to fine live music. I didn’t realize when I heard this concert that it would be my last for a long time, but with Bach, Ravel, and Franck on the program, with two exceptional musicians performing them, it was a good if unplanned finale to the season.