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The Sounds of Unpredictability

New York
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
10/22/2011 -  
Valentin Silvestrov: Dedication to J.S. Bach, for violin and piano (quasi echo) (U.S. Premiere)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004
Sofia Gubaidulina: Rejoice! Sonata for violin and cello – Chaconne for piano
Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, op. 67

Gidon Kremer (Violin), Giedre Dirvanauskaite (Cello), Andrius Zlabys (Piano)

G. Kremer (© Knud Rauff)

”Not all musicians believe in God, but every musician believes in Bach.”

Hagiography isn’t my game, nor do I believe Gidon Kremer is a saint. But musically I cannot think of any living violinist who gives more fascinating concerts, plays with more interesting ensembles or uncovers and creates more unusual music. Whether it be his work with the Asian Youth Orchestra, the Kremerata Baltica or Mr. Kremer’s deft variations on “Happy Birthday”, this violinist always give audiences far more than what they expect.

Last year, his concerts with the White Light Festival were electrically eclectic. This year he had only a single concert for White Light, but what a night it was. Theoretically, Mr. Kremer and his Lithuanian colleagues, cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite and pianist Andrius Zlabys, were supposed to give a tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach. Those expecting simply the Baroque master didn’t realize what Mr. Kremer does in music.

Two of the works were by Sofia Gubaidulina, one her famous Rejoice!, the other a very early Chaconne. Valentin Silvestrov, played all too infrequently here, was represented by a Bach-inspired work for piano and violin–though one looked in vain for a keyboard. Finally, Shostakovich’s Second Trio was given a brilliant performance (with some questionable program notes).

Questionable because no mention was made of Shostakovich’s use of Jewish themes in the final movement at a time when Stalin’s anti-Semitism was at its height. Nonetheless, these three played with jauntiness, elegance, and, in the Bach-like Chaconne with a stolid sense of inner mystery. That finale was never accentuated for its Jewish rhythms. The melodies were pronouncedly from the shtetl, nobody could doubt that. It is one of Shostakovich’s most accessible chamber works, and was played with extrovert spirit.

The opening Silvestrov Bach-inspired work for violin and piano had no onstage. But Silvestrov is a mysterious composer. Mr. Zlabys’s piano was far offstage, its resonances more felt than heard, while Mr. Kremer played a set of strange variations on the Bach D Minor Partita chaconne. In the centre, the piano was heard in full, in a very naive tune, something that could have come from Silvestrov’s early Kitsch-Music.

Valentin Silvestrov, like Gidon Kremer is a musician who never is predictable, yet, like his late colleague Alfred Schnittke, always makes the most disparate modules fit together. In theory, the two sections–Bach and maudlin mid-19th Century piano music–were less organic than two chemicals added together for an unexpected creation.

A. Zlabys (© Courtesy of the Artist)

Ms. Gubaidulina’s Chaconne is totally Bach-like in form, of course, and easy to spot the complex structure. Andrius Zlabys played it with explosive power throughout. The composer specifies a fortissimo opening, but Mr. Zlabys multiplied the volume, retaining volume and volition throughout the ten complex minutes. An early work of the composer, but with more than mere historical interest.

The later work, possibly her most popular, is the far more complex Rejoice!, a sonata for violin and cello. Mr. Kremer recorded this with Yo-Yo Ma, but Giedre Dirvanauskaite was hardly an inferior substitute. Ms. Gubaidulina’s title, resembling Bach’s title, “Sleepers, Awake”, is hardly literal. “Rejoicing” means understanding, even appreciation of sadness, desolation, the whole mystical skein of life. Thus, we have contrasts of woe and joy, figures which skate across the landscape/

Ms. Dirvanauskaite played not only with hard serious intent, with a fine resonating cello but with all the sobriety needed. It was Gidon Kremer, though, who virtually danced through the work. Bach never hesitated in using the jolliest dance rhythms when needed in his suites, and Mr. Kremer, in his characteristic open shirt and black vest, played like a village fiddler, with a happy almost foot-tapping glee.

The encore was the Josef Suk Elegy, but...

But did I forget something? Ah! Yes! Gidon Kremer playing the original Bach, the much transcribed Chaconne from the D Minor Partita. But I must confess it is not easy to write about this performance. Not for the Kremer technique or understanding, but the cleanness, the clarity, the (here goes this word again) joy in communicating this unearthly music to the full house.

Back to the original quote. After listening to Kremer, one surmises that God may not believe in all musicians, not compared to his Angelic Choirs. But He might give up all the cherubim and seraphim for just a few measures of Gidon Kremer on his four-century-old Amati fiddle.

Harry Rolnick



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