REVIEW: Violinist Itamar Zorman and Pianist Kwan Yi at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall: Bach, Schnittke, Hindemith, Brahms

By Jon Sobel on Nov 06, 2014 11:50 AM EST

Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman, named just this week a nominee for the first annual Warner Music Prize, made his Carnegie Hall debut last night with a wide-ranging program of music by Bach, Hindemith, Brahms and Schnittke at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall.

Winner of a 2014 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award and a 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Zorman reached another milestone with last night's Carnegie Hall Distinctive Debuts concert. He began with Bach's Solo Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Major, choosing for the titanic double fugue of the second movement a spacious tempo that brought out the nobility of Bach's creation, showing off a glittering technique in the "Allegro Assai" finale, and using the whole Sonata to establish a forceful new presence in New York City's classical music scene.

Zorman was then joined by pianist Kwan Yi for Alfred Schnittke's Violin Sonata No. 2. Though this work explicitly references Bach in more ways than one, it provided a startling contrast with the Bach right from its opening slammed piano chord. Introduced by the violinist as a "polystylistic" work and a "free-flowing fantasy," it's also a very entertaining piece if you open yourself to the humor in its unexpected juxtapositions of standard chords and dissonances, empty spaces and cauldrons of sound, all linked by varying iterations of the B-A-C-H motif. My impression was that Zorman wanted to use the pairing of a famous piece by an old master with a 20th century scream to establish his bona fides as a musician dedicated to the full expanse of classical (and modern classical) music, and in this he succeeded.

After Yi's enthusiastic fulfillment of the keyboard-banging called for by Schnittke's score, the piano needed a tuning during intermission. When Zorman returned by himself to play Paul Hindemith's Solo Violin Sonata, Op. 31 No. 1, he began with none of the hesitancy that had characterized the first few bars of his ultimately triumphant reading of the Bach. In its second movement at least, the Hindemith sonata references Bach too, specifically the C Minor Sonata we'd just heard. But although its chord changes and angular melodies are typical of the composer, and its final movement is a scurrying showpiece that Zorman delivered with assurance, it struck me as one of the composer's more lightweight efforts, and served mainly as an appetizer for Brahms's Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor.

For me, Brahms is the ultimate test of an artist's capacity for romantic musicality, and Zorman, aided nobly by Yi, met the challenge with confidence to spare. Achieving a rich, majestic sound in the Adagio, moving from a ballet-like grace to a tumbling fervor in the Scherzo, and rocking together through the alternately romantic and religious passions of the "Presto agitato" finale, Zorman and Yi told a story I didn't want to end.

The encores showed that Zorman's musical interests and sensibility range even further. First, a sad, ethereal and understated Hebrew melody featured some violin fireworks; then the Kreisleresque "Hora" by Moshe Zorman (the violinist's father) made for a triumphant closing dance.

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TagsViolinist, pianist, Kwan Yi, Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall, Bach, Schnittke, Hindemith, Brahms, Itamar Zorman

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