Veronika Eberle & Shai Wosner at Wigmore Hall – Debussy & Bartók

Sonata in G minor for Violin and Piano
Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano

Veronika Eberle (violin) & Shai Wosner (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 24 October, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Two 20th-century violin sonatas of very different proportions made up this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, from New Generation Artist Veronika Eberle and Shai Wosner, a former member of the scheme. Debussy’s Sonata, his final published work, is a typically compact three-movement design; the Bartók, published just four years later, is a big-boned piece that remains a formidable challenge for performers and audience alike.

Eberle gave a forthright reading of the Debussy, but one that was also restless, indicative of the circumstances in which the piece was written, with the composer’s health in terminal decline towards the end of the First World War. Initially the balance between piano and violin was weighted too heavily in favour of the former, but this soon evened out and the slower passage in the first movement was sensitively reserved. Eberle secured a beautifully rounded tone from her ‘Dragonetti’ Stradivarius of 1700, which she put to good use in Debussy’s more-lyrical writing, though some of the louder interventions were on the gruff side. More could have been made of dynamic contrasts.

Both players tackled the Bartók head on – surely the only valid approach to a work whose angular lines and motoric energy are impossible to ignore. Immediately the mood was one of fraught intensity, the swirling piano lines and twisted violin melody at odds with each other, the two rarely complementing musically. As such the lack of eye-contact between Eberle and Wosner was entirely appropriate, though despite this the two were clearly attuned. Eberle found the essence of the strange lyricism in the unaccompanied writing of the central Adagio, where there were moments of intense contemplation when the music appeared to stop still. The performers remained focused until the closing diminuendo, which was achieved to complete silence in the hall. This heightened the impact made by Wosner’s left-hand motif with which the finale began, and the pronounced rubato he used whenever this figure appeared was entirely valid, the pesante approach deliberately stalling the music before it took off at a frenetic pace. The brusque dance-like patterns held the attention, but before long Eberle impressively wrested control, the two instruments more obviously working together in Bartók’s writing. There was no encore, quite rightly – such a move would have doused the fire left by this powerful performance.

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