FringeReview UK 2019
David Soo and Mi Yang play Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Violin Sonata in F major, Op 24, Paganini’s Cantabile, Schumann’s Marchenbilder, Massenet’s Thais Meditation and Soo a solo piano performance of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole.
David Soo and Mi Yang are new to me. They make their Brighton debut here, playing Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Violin Sonata in F major, Op 24, just the first movement; Paganini’s Cantabile, Schumann’s Marchenbilder, Massenet’s Thais Meditation and Soo a solo piano performance of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole.
Soo as his last item proved is a graduate virtuoso of the first rank. That is he has all the technical command a young Lisztian needs: unfaltering fingerwork, a capacity to project the most intense romantic colour, the right kind of loud and most of all as an accompanist too the capacity to listen out and support his violinist partner. He fines down his tone to classical lines and proves equally adept at negotiating Beethoven’s different soundworld. He’d make an excellent chamber musician and again on this evidence a concerto performer.
Yang’s great strength, again apart from the consummate technical finesse, is a rich-toned violin, often dark-hued and digging quite deep into viola-like sonorities. There’s a satisfying woodiness to some of her lower register, but Yang also shows in the Massenet in particular a capacity for rapt romantic tone in the highest reaches, an expressiveness that’s again both romantic and winning. Nothing’s overdone but Yang exudes a remarkably warm presence.
The 45-minute recital at St Nicholas demands some compromises: only the first movement Allegro of the Beethoven Op 24 in F major could be played. But what an essay in exploratory colour – and chromatically tensed argument – assailing the swift classical line,. It’s an eventful, finely-projected sense of how by 1801 Beethoven was already finding his way out of classical models; in this genre bar a very few from Mozart he only had himself as guide. It’d be good to see what this pair make of the whole.
Paganini’s Cantabile is a reverse-engineering of Paganini’s usual way, violin/piano to violin/guitar. Here a violin and guitar piece – there’s nine CDs-worth of such music dating through the 1830s – gets converted to violin and piano. It beautifully betrays the gentle singing-line of the violin, able to literally go cantabile without the usual competition with the piano as envisaged. The guitar complemented and counterpointed it, rather than overwhelmed. We’ve heard this very combination here in Paganini played recently with the Shelton/Gregory duo. Here, with the guitar turned into a piano, the original gentleness works beautifully, and both players fine down to this late-classical/early-romantic interface of bel canto.
Schumann’s Marchenbilder Op 113 from March 1851 (so late on in his creative life) are a different matter. Only the first two of four movements could be played but they contrast well, the ‘Nicht Schnell’ and ‘Lebhaft’ markings meaning ‘not fast’ and ‘lively’ where Yang’s violin goes as it were dark, with this chromatically-nicked writing allowing us to see why Schumann was able to make transcriptions for other instruments including viola. Yang doesn’t fail to dig into this, bringing out the melancholy in the first’s fantasy, and the release of speed in the other: a joyful ephemera.
Massenet’s Thais, from his 1893 opera of awakened sexual conscience (always the woman of course) triumphantly survives its bourgeois plotline from Anatole France – though Renée Fleming made a fine case for the whole opera recently. And what a spiralling delight of rising notes Yang makes of it too. Her richly supported tone is able to thread up to the heights, discreetly coloured by Soo’s shaded pianism.
Finally, and is seemed strange at first, the pianist’s solo slot. In one sense it was almost the second half to the recital. If they’d had longer these artists would have happily included those torsos as complete works, and I wonder if in an hour-long recital Yang might try a solo unaccompanied spot too – Ysaye, Bartok, Reger or the perennial Bach, or even one of Telemann’s twelve solo Violin Sonatas made famous by Rachel Podger.
Still Soo’s rendition of Liszt’s 1858 Rhapsodie Espagnole is something else. It’s a large-scale conception, bigger than the nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, championed by pianists as wide-ranging as Solomon and Cziffra. Soo as we know by now can project, with depth of colour too. As well as clangorous arrivals and explosive fermatas as chords explode there seems some temporary resolution for a quarter-second. Before octaves leap up and we’re off again like some cartoon skid. At one point there’s a set of variations on La Folia. Well, there would be, wouldn’t there?
It’s a work that demands spills, thrilling glissandi sweeping up the keyboard, rhythms of Spanish dances from Andalusia like the Jota, as Soo informed us in his introduction, their gas-pedal collision. There’s moments of repose, as there are in the other Rhapsodies. But these are points of swerve and pounce. It’s vertiginous, outrageously showy, profoundly musical. Soo pulled off the difficult feat of making Liszt’s showmanship emotionally telling in the way his more searching works are.
A wonderful debut. Let’s hope this duo will return, to at least one of the Brighton venues.