Brighton Year-Round 2019
Daniel Stroud and Hanzhi Zhang, both still studying at the Royal Academy of Music give a recital of Mozart’s dark Violin Sonata No. 21 in E minor K304, from 1778, and Fauré’s Violin Sonata in a major Op 13 from 1878. Their built-in encore was Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of the Londonderry Air.
It doesn’t get fresher than this: two new voices brought to St Nicholas. Daniel Stroud and Hanzhi Zhang, both still studying at the Royal Academy of Music give a recital of Mozart’s dark Violin Sonata No. 21 in E minor K304, from 1778, and Fauré’s Violin Sonata in a major Op 13 from 1878. Their built-in encore was Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of the Londonderry Air.
Stroud plays a Lorenzo Ventapane instrument (Naples, c.1800) on loan from the RAM. Almost contemporary with the Mozart it lends a uniquely dark grainy sonority, which makes classical period works sound Romantic but from the perspective of a period instrument, however modified. Zhang plays the well-known light-toned but expressive French piano at St Nicholas.
Their way with the Mozart is swift yet because of the violin, a ruminant Romanticism’s inevitable. And no wonder. The only minor-keyed violin sonata Mozart wrote, in the wake of his mother’s death in Paris (another link between these two main works, a century apart) it’s a brooding meditation on mortality. E minor’s traditionally the key of mourning.
The Allegro is darkly bright, inward with a touch of rubato, powerful and inward with its repeated notes and bleak insistence. The Tempo Di Minuetto scarcely lightens the pitch and yaw of this sonata, so much does it seem wrapped in a miniature dance of death.
The Fauré sashays with expressive zing and power in its passionate yet optimistic cast. People had to remind César Franck admirers ‘render unto Gabriel’ that Fauré’s sonata pre-dated the Belgian’s by nine years. It’s the first great French violin sonata – just before Saint-Saens’ first.
The Allegro Molto launches into lights and a few shades in a soaring journey, full of springing forward and holding back though only momentarily. There’s the ecstasy born of recent marriage here, but also the affirmation A major brings. The Ventapane’s tone is particularly dark and woody here and throughout the sonata.
The Andante slips by and Stroud’s technique is clearly one of risk-taking and excitement, characterful and prone to bring out the expressive purpose of this work, rather than try to produce a polite even tone. This augurs well. Zhang paces him with emphasis on discreet shading and warmth, and a backbone of weight.
When they press ahead in the Allegro Vivo scherzo-like movement the pair take risk that are quite breathtaking, almost threatening to unseat them, but which never do. There’s only a hint of untidiness soon swept away in their panache. It’s the pace and power we need, not the anaemic neatness sometimes encountered.
The Allegro Quasi Presto in fact evens out beautifully and balances despite the heft and weight of that grainy dark Ventapane. This could be a beautifully matched partnership in any case, and is more than satisfying – it’s exhilarating.
Kreisler’s arrangement of the Londonderry Air brings out that Ventapane again, right from its lower range, to soar in folk-like affirmation finally. The most individual performance of this small gem I’ve heard.
A characterful, assured debut. Let’s hope this duo returns. Their reception certainly invited it.