Kaoru Yamada & Sholto Kynoch

Sonata for piano and violin in D, Op.12/1
Violin Sonata No.2
Andante, Op.75
Violin Sonata in E flat, Op.18

Kaoru Yamada (violin) & Sholto Kynoch (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 26 April, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This concert, part of the Kirckman Concert Sociey’s ongoing series devoted to young artists of exceptional talent, featured the Japanese violinist Kaoru Yamada, a postgraduate of the Royal Academy of Music and currently the Hallé Orchestra’s principal second violin. The pianist, Sholto Kynoch, is also an alumnus of the RAM as well as a former pupil of Graham Johnson.

With Bartók’s Second Sonata (a distinctly tough nut) and the rarely played Strauss as the main works, this was an ambitious programme but one thoroughly justified by the performances. The Beethoven was in many ways the least satisfactory aspect of an otherwise excellent and rewarding evening. The young Beethoven was clearly a man in a hurry, eager to make his mark, and this duo similarly gave the impression of being rather hasty. It wasn’t that speeds were particularly fast but Kynoch attacked the music with a degree of heft that was out of place and the music’s outlines were frequently blurred. As Gerald Moore once asked, in literary terms, “Am I too loud?”; in Kynoch’s case the answer was “yes”. Faced with this full-frontal assault from her partner, Yamada seemed inhibited, correct but standing apart from the music.

The two-movement folk-inspired Bartók was another matter entirely. Whereas in Beethoven players from the Far East frequently sound accurate but constrained, Bartók’s angularities seem to pose them with fewer problems. Yamada and Kynoch attacked this difficult music with total confidence and with a degree of freedom that was riveting. In particular Yamada’s absolute technical assurance in the taxing Allegretto with its massive climax paid rich dividends, but one also felt a far more complete involvement with the music itself. Bartók himself gave the work’s premiere in London with its dedicatee, Jelly d’Aranyi, in May 1923 in – I believe – the Wigmore Hall.

Besides two well-known violin sonatas Fauré also wrote four relatively neglected shorter pieces for violin and piano, the Andante being the last. This duo gave it a rich-toned reading whereas a degree of understatement might have benefited Fauré’s elusive soundworld, but there was no doubting the duo’s passionate commitment. By contrast, when they played Fauré’s Berceuse as an encore, it was with the most refined sensibility and magically understated.

The rarely played Strauss sonata, one of his earliest works and a long-time Heifetz favourite, received a magnificently opulent reading, its soaring lyricism eliciting the most ardent response from both performers. Yamada, her bow arm frequently held quite high, dug deep and now produced a weight of sound to put her on a more equal footing with Kynoch (who sometimes gave the impression that he would rather have been playing a piano reduction of ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’). By contrast with her, at times, over-assertive accompanist, Yamada found plenty of light and shade, the improvisatory slow movement being especially memorable (although even she could not disguise a degree of note-spinning in the finale). Her intonation and control was quite remarkably assured throughout this demanding programme.

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