Midori & Robert McDonald

Sonata in D, D384
Violin Sonata No.1 in F minor, Op.80
Phantasy, Op.47, for violin with piano accompaniment
Sonata in C minor for Piano and Violin, Op.30/2

Midori (Violin) & Robert McDonald (Piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 14 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

By a curious coincidence the two main works on this programme – the Prokofiev and Beethoven sonatas – were identical with those of Maxim Vengerov’s recital at this same venue just a few days earlier.

Midori’s recital opened extremely gently with a wonderfully understated account of Schubert’s Sonata in D. Written for his brother Ferdinand, Schubert clearly had domestic performance in mind and in from Midori and Robert McDonald one almost felt like a voyeur eavesdropping on some deeply intimate music-making, so natural the fusion between the two performers, so unostentatious their repartee. The central Andante brought playing of exceptional purity and radiance.

Prokofiev’s First Sonata poses a very different challenge. Written for David Oistrakh, premiered by him in 1946 and played by its dedicatee at Prokofiev’s funeral, it includes a stratospheric passage which the composer told Oistrakh should sound “like the wind in a cemetery”. The very ending recedes into total blackness. It would be idle to pretend that Midori possesses the weight of sound of her great Russian colleague, but she is supremely good at making the most of those other assets which she commands. In this instance there was an inward quality to the first movement, its pauses perfectly timed, an almost shocking violence in her attack on the following scherzo, Allegro brusco, and a bone-china finesse to her playing of the Andante. She also possesses remarkable purity of intonation in the violin’s upper reaches, an important asset in the outer movements.

Schoenberg’s Phantasy was written in 1949 and is his last piece of chamber music. Its brief 9-minute span telescopes a slow movement and a scherzo into what would otherwise have been the development section of a sonata. Midori and McDonald played it with total level of security and absolute conviction. Frequently with Schoenberg one feels that the ideology of serial technique takes precedence over musical content: this performance ensured that the musical message came first.

Midori programmes the Beethoven’s C minor Sonata last. This is tense, angry music, written shortly before the “Heiligenstadt Testament” and in a time of increasing deafness for the composer. Midori and McDonald played it with an exceptional degree of unanimity of purpose, the gloom seldom lifting, even in the Scherzo, and with real inwardness in the Adagio cantabile. There was little ingratiating or comforting about this rendition, although it was true to the piece. Perhaps for this reason it elicited less enthusiasm than it actually deserved.

For a single encore, one of gossamer lightness, this distinguished duo played an arrangement of Sea-shell by Carl Engel (1883-1944).

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