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Duo Concertant

New York
Tisch Center for the Arts
12/02/2000 -  
Igor Stravinsky: Suite Italienne
Serge Prokofieff: Sonata # 1
Johannes Brahms: Sonata # 2
George Gershwin: Four Songs

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (violin)
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)

Most recitals tend to focus on only one player, the shadowy accompanist only there as a matter of necessity, often not much higher in profile than the page turner. But last evening at the 92nd St. Y we were treated to a genuine partnership, a duet of equals bringing forth a cornucopia of musical styles and a consistently high level of professionalism and excellence of execution. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg has developed a fine reputation for herself, although her playing was unfamiliar to me, while Anne-Marie McDermott is relatively unknown but I have had the pleasure of hearing here several times before. What is common to these two dedicated young women is high energy, musical intelligence and the rare ability to communicate freely to the depths of their feelings.

Although it should be Pergolesi that comes to mind when listening to the Suite Italienne, I kept thinking instead of Rossini, that expert purloiner of his own and other’s material. By the time Stravinsky published this rehashing of his Pulchinella he had already turned the ballet into an orchestral suite and a concert piece for cello and piano (also known as Suite Italienne). But the melodies are deliciously infectious throughout although it is problematical as to who actually wrote them. Ms. S-S is a native Roman and, as such, comes from the tradition where the pulchinelli are stock characters of comic culture (cf. the films of Toto, for example), not just individual examples of the commedia dell’arte, and she seems naturally imbued with the proper lightness of spirit. Matched note for note by Ms. McDermott, this was a performance with much air let in.

Oistrakh, Kochanski, Hellmesberger…there was much violinistic thought on display last evening. The Prokofieff is one of his most uncompromising scores, revisited after the war but remaining just as acerbic and difficult. From the opening spidery fingering (which also closes the piece) through the violently percussive sections, this young lioness exhibited remarkable dexterity and extremely interesting variances of tone. Again her pianist was up to the task (this is a very demanding part as all Prokofieff keyboard works tend to be) and seemed to spur her charge on to even greater heights of expression. Ms. S-S’s bow was virtually destroyed by the end of the affair, a ragged mass of threads akimbo, bloodied but unbowed in the service of such exuberant modernism.

In the Brahms, the duo settled in to a fine and burnished reading, the violin tone rich and warm, the pianism solidly controlled so as not to dominate (the key to a fine Brahms collaboration). These are artists of a keen musical sense, phrase builders of substantial poetic craftsmanship. The full house was treated to a fine soiree of music-making as is almost always the case at this wonderfully intimate hall.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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