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FringeReview UK 2018

Bach and Stern Violin and Piano Recital

Emmanuel Bach and Jenny Stern

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

Emmanuel Bach and Jenny Stern play the Beethoven Violin Sonata in E flat, Op 12/3, Britten’s Op 6 Suite, Ysaye’s Solo Sonata No. 6 (Bach alone), and two pieces by Kreisler, the Prelude and Fugue ‘after’ Puganani and the Gitanes.


Emmanuel Bach and Jenny Stern are new to me, and Bach’s off to further studies, but on the strength of this we’ve caught him at the jump-off point to soloist. Even more to the point, there’s a fresh repertoire, particularly the Britten and Ysaye. Bach has a lean smooth silvery high end and plays with heft and power in these regions too. He might particularly excel in 20th and 21st century repertoire but he’s equally at home in classical.


The Beethoven Violin Sonata in E flat, Op 12/3 is quite well-known, and dedicated, yes to Salieri. Who was as it happens a very fine composer quite apart from being admired by Beethoven and Schubert, whom he taught.


The Beethoven’s hefty at the piano end, this still being early (1798) and the balance though pushing to the violin still an affair of grumpy equals – Beethoven the pianist was in evidence and he wasn’t going to let his part go.


The discursive or rockily eventful Allegro con spirito has several gossamer passages but the piano muscles in effectively – Stern’s glissandi are more silvery than iron and she makes light of the emphatic figuration.


Bach can really excel in the Adagio con molta espressione – it’s in a radiant, relatively unclouded C major like a long cantilena at times; the kind we don’t associate with Beethoven.


But we do with the Rondo: Allegro molto is a whirligig of timing too, where the violin fights it out with the piano and both claim victory. There’s the usual games each catching the other out, but less than I remember. It’s an exhilarating piece and wraps up the work in a cheerfully assertive but still classically recognizably manner.


The Britten Violin and Piano Suite Op 6 from 1935 though isn’t played nearly enough, and it’s good to see it played by musicians who get it. That is, it’s stratospherically early Brittenish, the way his later Quartet No. 1 is, and much else from this period. Bach revels in this sonority, and though it was revised it sounds fresh in its four movements, though the five-movement work’s evne more .


The Introduction: Andante maestoso strikes several high poses

with its separation leaps and jangling single piano chords. It’s close to Berg, more dissonant than we’re used to and quite thrilling. The March: Allegro alla marcia is great fun but this is the movement cut – it’s been restored in several recordings. The Moto perpetuo: Allegro molto e con fuoco is just more crackers than Britten’s jagged marches, and perhaps Britten thought he was repeating himself. He needn’t have worried. This scurrying passagework rather lie the first movement is thrilling high-riding stuff, leading into the dessicated calm of another favourite Britten marking, Lullaby: Lento tranquillo. It might be a European nightmare, but is also tender. Naturally another favourite Britten marking at this period, the Waltz: Alla valse, vivace e rubato is more burlesque than anything obviously decorous, but is clearly a waltz on espresso, the most easily memorable movement, and the lightest, full-textured, fun, as well as a rousing finale.


Though Ysaye’s wonderful six solo Sonatas – the greatest since Bach and before the Bartok – are famed, it’s mainly the first three, particularly the short Third, dedicated to Enescu (all six were dedicated). So this really is welcome. Ysaye wrote them in 1923, at sixty-five over three days in a Mediterranean hotel room, eight years before his death. They’re his masterpieces.


The Sixth like the Third is in one movement, only slightly longer at about eight minutes. Dedicated to Manuel Quiroga, a Spanish violinist who was ailing and never played this piece, it evokes not the violinist’s rainy north-west Galicia, but a rare shaft of Iberian sun. It hasn’t the single-minded shaft of intensity of the Third, which is a searing masterpiece around a great Rumanian composer’s idiom, but rather spoils the mastery we see here, because No. 6 is subtler, less monothematically singular, sunlit, havering and darting with depths and chiaroscuro of its own. I’d forgotten just how elusive and fine it was with a superb fined-down ending.


There’s a link with the next composer, since Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931) dedicated the first of his Op 23 to the great violinist of the next generation, Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), and quite a big-boned work it is.


The two Kreisler encores are better-known but we don’t hear them so much now. Written (probably!) in the early 1920s, the first is one of those ‘fake’ 18th century pieces Kreisler wrote himself, far exceeding what the original composer could ever have done. Music critic Ernest Newman finally called him out on it in 1935. He realized that Kreisler was himself a composer touched with genius.


The first is his famed mock-Pugnani (1731-1803, not remotely late-baroque or rococo like this, but wafer thin early classical). The Prelude with its great open-string sawing theme with leaps is a miraculously sturdy confection; a masterly piece in its own right, as is the more Alberti-bass descending Fugue that follows. Bach revels in this biggish structure, cod-late-baroquerie. It’s a lovely Romantic reading of a lovely Romantic piece.


The Gitanes or gypsy encore is lighter more generic and utterly memorable, with its south Spanish and Moorish inflections crossed with Hungarian ones. Stern whispers and roars – both discreetly here, where emphasis is placed on the violin.


Altogether, we need players like Bach who understand what’s there to be discovered. His is still a burgeoning talent, but a big one. Stern proves ideal. It’s be good to see him back after his year of study.