FringeReview UK 2018
Duo Asteria is the violin and piano team of Corinna Hentschel and Giulio Poggia, forming a partnership in February 2015, and who’ve already appeared at the Wigmore Hall. They play two works, both from 1918: Hindemith’s E flat Violin Sonata Op 11/1. and Respighi’s sole Sonata in B minor.
Duo Asteria is the violin and piano team of Corinna Hentschel and Giulio Poggia, forming a partnership in February 2015, and who’ve already appeared at the Wigmore Hall to just name one prestigious venue. They’ve played at St Nicholas once before, but they’re one of the two or three finest artists in this medium to have played here this year.
They’re a highly distinctive, powerful duo. Hentschel’s violin playing has deep resonance, dark viola colours and a nutty dark sweetness. Ideal for late Romanticism which is what we get here.
Poggia’s powerful projection on the St Nicholas piano – it’s silvery and French – is potent and cuts through where it needs to. Poggia’s as virtuosic as Hentschel. There’s perfect weight and balance here.
You can see these artists thrive on heft and chromatically challenging works, and make them Romantic again by producing the full range of colours, not a turbid undertow.
They played just two works and you’d not want an encore with these richly satisfying pieces from 1918, which marks what they have in common. And despite differences, early Hindemith with tis sharp lyricism isn’t so far from Respighi’s saturated chromatics either.
Hindemith’s 1918-19 Violin Sonata in E flat Op 11/1 is one of a clutch of Op 11 works for violin and viola that have remained just inside the fringes of the repertoire, especially the achingly lyrical Op 11/4. This E flat works is less well known and points ahead. But it’s still late Romantic, with its swirling first movement marked ‘Frisch’ freshly one might suggest. With tis tolling piano intro answered by the violin there’s a hint of the off-centre awkward tonality Hindemith would make his own. The second subject’s more Romantic, and the tension between the two oscillate.
Oleg Kagan and Sviatislav Richter memorably recorded it – showing not just how Richter rated Hindemith generally (he played several works) but how he felt the piano part worth tackling. The development’s a much more gawkish dance straight out of Prokofiev – two jutting notes stick out – with a German accent.
The second movement is plain weird and caught everyone off-guard. it’s nominally a set of dances But slow dances, and in their opening and closing strangely reflective, perhaps a dance of death. This is not just the end of war but a starving Germany succumbing to influenza. It just breaks off. Really powerful and unsettling, the whole works comes in at about nine and half minutes.
The Respighi’s slightly better known, thanks mainly to a famous Chung/Zimmerman recording coupled with Strauss’s early masterpiece. Though Heifitz played it too. It’s in B minor, a famously dark key, and from 1918 too. Though its three movements have different markings they’re not very differentiated.
The first moderato is exploratory but it’s a long journey in a few minutes, with a long-arched theme around a four-note motif that’s memorable and deeply melancholy. The piano pushes the violin to arabesques and more development.
When the Andante espressivo kicks in it rises in a passionate climax with similar material to the first movement. It’s not like Respighi’s contemporary orchestral music. There’s a terrific thew and clangour from the piano fining down when the violin edges back. This ebb and flow characterises a very unquiet elegy, one with keening that after a quiet transition opens out into a passionate yet lyrical affirmation. There’s a haunting coda.
The finale – Allegro moderato ma energetico – returns to a bass-heavy piano introduction like some period Bach transcription (Poggia adroitly avoiding turgidity) with a dug-in violin part really pitching us back to minor-keyed turbulence.
Hentschel’s tone manages what some don’t always, to make this powerful without allowing some of the potentially ugly sounds this rather earnest violin part can make over the piano. And it can. Hentschel’s dark resonant tone is ideal for this repertoire, and she tackles it with a rare distinction. The rest of the movement moves through reminiscences of the more lyrical, quietly ardent elements of the Andante. For which we can be grateful.
Respighi’s produced a passionate work and realizes too that invading the Andante with perilous explosive stuff unbalances it so there’s little repose. But essentially what he’s achieved is a marvellously unpredictable work, sashaying between passionate outburst and lyric reflection. It’s all of a piece though, eschewing predictable movements for an organic development ebbing and flourishing. The coda thunders home memorably and with enormous power.
I wonder what Hentschel and Poggia might make of the Strauss, or Ildebrande Pizzetti’s A minor Violin Sonata, also from 1918? It would be wonderful to hear them again.