As I write this, I am staring at the pouring rain outside the study window. Two days after our opening of the Breinton season, I am still on a high from the excitement we experienced. What a wonderful evening it was!
When I was planning this season's Soirées, I had a pretty good idea who I wanted to invite to perform. I remember filling our calendar with great enthusiasm, completing all the dates, all except one – I could not fill the first slot. For the season opening, I was fussy, I wanted an new instrument, something which had never played here before, and I wanted something special. For a while I had no clue. Then one day I came across Natasha Lomeiko and Yuri Zhislin on the list of musicians managed by one of the agencies we work with. The decision was easily made.
Natasha and Yuri introduced us to the beautiful world of the violin and viola. We were also delighted to hear pieces by new composers that had not been featured before: Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni, an Italian composer and violinist who spent most of his life and career in Paris; and Johan Halvorsen, a Norwegian violinist and composer.
The recital started with two pieces from Bruni's collection of more than twenty compositions for violin and viola, specifically, No. 3 and No. 4 from Book Four of his Six Duos Concertants. Each duo had two movements – all of them different in style, but equally expressive. The first movement of No. 3, Allegro moderato was very fresh and vivacious but at the same time elegant. This was followed by a lively minuet. No. 4"s first movement Allegro maestoso was graceful and was followed by the melodious and playful second movement. They were such sweet and enjoyable short pieces; each style and character was very well expressed by the musicians.
Then we had a complete change in atmosphere; Prokofiev"s Sonata for Two Violins was darker and much heavier. This four-movement Sonata could be lyrical, violent, subtle, dynamic and playful, but all the elements were beautifully played by the couple"s polished sounds. I felt their notes were like hidden jewels shining in the darkness. I am not poetic so I"m not sure if I have described this well, but that is how I felt. I particularly loved the first movement, Andante cantabile; it was so lyrical and literally sounded like the two violins were singing.
After the interval came YsaÓ±e"s Sonata for Two Violins. Yuri said that YsaÓ±e composed this Sonata with the intention of playing it together with his good friend, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, but the Queen"s musical ability did not live up to his expectations. Of course, it is not of the kind of standard which anyone could play with their friend! However Queen Elisabeth was well known for her love of music and she founded the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in his memory. Among the numerous international competitions, this is considered one of the most prestigious and difficult. Anyway didn"t I just love this Sonata and its creation of amazing harmonies? I found it surprising that it takes only two violins to create such gorgeous harmony. Really dynamically and expressively played, from the start until the finale, I was completely fixated. Compared to the composer"s solo violin pieces, this Sonata is not as frequently performed, and Yuri and Natasha are trying to challenge that. I suggested that they should definitely record it.
Last in the programme was the sensational Passacaglia, a duo by Halvorsen for violin and viola based on themes by Handel. I enjoyed all the beautiful variations and the acuteness and clarity of their playing was amazing, I had goose bumps on my arms throughout the piece. As it approached the finish, there was huge emotional accumulation towards the climax, and when finally the piece ended dramatically it wowed every person in the room.
Something extraordinary happened next '“ for an encore, Natasha and Yuri performed a composition by Christian Ernst Graaf"s, on only one violin! Yuri and Natasha played on her violin with two bows; I have never seen anything like that in my life! It was really amusing and brought a very happy ending to the evening.
To me, it was a wonderful programme of contrasting pieces, which Natasha and Yuri showed their skill over a wide range of sounds and technical difficulties. However, no matter how difficult the pieces were, their playing never sounded mechanical. They had warmth and plentiful emotion and expression, while the care for each other was apparent. Their understanding of each other"s mood, tempo and timing is explicit, while they obviously share the same view and interpretation of the pieces they performed. On their website it says 'œthe Duo is an artistic union created as a result of their strong desire to be together on stage as well as in life'. What a lovely couple.
At the end of the evening, one regular said 'œEvery recital at Breinton is special, but tonight"s performance was truly special'. I hope everybody felt the same way.