Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K454 Brahms arr. Joachim
Hungarian Dances – Nos.1, 2 & 5 Bartók arr. Szigeti
Hungarian Folk Tunes Franck
Sonata in A for Violin and Piano
Bálint Székely (violin) & Mariko Kondo (piano)
Bálint Székely & Mariko Kondo at Wigmore Hall
Friday, July 04, 2008 Wigmore Hall, London
Reviewed by Douglas Cooksey
Sponsored by the Hungarian Cultural Centre, the Wigmore Hall was gratifyingly full for this Transylvanian-Japanese duo's recital, a reflection possibly of the fact that both are former students at the Royal College of Music. Bálint Székely is a one-time student of Béla Dékány, a former leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Mariko Kondo has, until recently, been studying with Maria Curcio.
Despite the attractive programme and some good things along the way, this was a curiously uneven affair due in large part to a mismatch between the performers. Székely is clearly a significant talent poised on the brink of a substantial career as a soloist, his playing full of personality and character, the sound he produces almost unfailingly beautiful and strongly projected. By contrast, Kondo whilst never less than solicitous as an accompanist, was not an equal partner in the two sonatas.
An unintended consequence was that the programme's most successful moments lay elsewhere. Vitali’s Chaconne – roughly contemporaneous with the one that closes J. S. Bach’s D minor Partita for unaccompanied violin – is a gravely beautiful piece once beloved by Heifetz. Kondo explained in the programme note that 19th-century versions were too rich and romantic and that, on this occasion, the textures had been lightened using a figured bass part "incorporating some revisions by myself". With Székely's rich-tone, fine bowing and poise, this was extremely successful.
So too for the most part were the Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dances and the Bartok-Szigeti Hungarian Folk Tunes; hardly surprisingly, given his origins, Székely was transparently 'at home' with the Hungarian idiom – both transcriptions are, of course, the work of violinists and attention is firmly focussed on the violin. Apart from the G minor Hungarian Dance, which required an extra dash of paprika, this was much the most successful part of the recital.
Far less satisfactory was the Mozart and, in particular, the Franck. The Mozart, for piano and violin, is a joyous work, which was written for a concert given by the 20-year-old violinist Regina Strinasacchi, of whose playing Mozart thought highly. At its premiere, Mozart, not having had time to copy out his own part, played with a blank sheet of paper in front of him. Kondo was unduly reverential and respectful, carefully observing from a safe distance rather than brought the music to life. It was all rather reminiscent of Ingrid Haebler's ‘Dresden China’ approach. Least affected was the Andante, which was poised and eloquent, but the outer movements cried out for a more assertive approach.
César Franck’s Sonata, though richly voiced by Székely, was consistently too slow, foursquare rather than fluide in the opening movement – at this tempo the initial rocking theme was static. The second movement, after an initial surge of adrenaline, lost all impetus in the central section; and the recitative-fantasia third, impressive in the power of Székely's playing, needed much greater weight in the piano part. The surging finale, music to set the pulses racing, cried out to live more dangerously.
There was an agreeable encore in the form of Kreisler's Schön Rosmarin.