Violin-piano Recital

Posted: January 25, 1992

Violinists - but few others - know the Camille Saint Saens Sonata No. 1 in D minor (Op. 75) - a handsome structure, whose flamboyance is supported by technical terrors. Jascha Heifetz made it one of his many signature pieces, and his interpretation is as good a reason as any that it is so seldom heard on the concert stage. After his Olympian perfectionism, who would dare?

Cho-Liang Lin dared Thursday night at the Port of History Museum during a duo recital with pianist Andre-Michel Schub presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Saint-Saens' rock-solid romanticism - his keenly controlled ardors that demand precision more than feeling - suits these players. You can't be a sloppy romantic and get on here is the taunt behind a work such as the sonata.

The musicians did not lose interest or let their concentration flag during the Herculean work. Its challenges spiral from long-limbed melodies and thick harmonic textures to fugal patterns and far too many unison and octave pitches for comfort. Getting all the notes spot-on is a splendid achievement, but the duo managed much more in a performance that brought members of the audience to their feet. Lin's tone gleamed with confidence and the clarity of his phrasing stressed its predictable but nonetheless thrilling symmetries. At its finest moments, Lin stirred memories of Heifetz turning this turn-of-the-century piece into a Hollywood scorcher.

Clarity is of the essence when playing Ravel. Glassy to glacial piano effects and pointed and angular string phrases underline the Sonata for Piano and Violin, which requires a sly wit as well as earnest execution. There were times - in this piece and elswhere - when earnestness overcame Schub's piano playing but for the most part the performance was made delightful by the performers' delight in Ravel's sonorities. Lin sketched well the whimsy and irony of the parodistic "Blues" movement.

The rest of the program was disappointing. The partnership did not cohere with sufficient balance to give a sense of perspective between the voices during the Mozart Sonata in C major (K. 296), which had busy-ness with little purpose.

And neither man - although I fault more Schub's constricted accompaniment - seemed to comprehend the febrile intensity and gossamer textures of the Schumann Sonata in A minor. Attacks were straitjacketed, harmonies punctured, Schumann's yearning melodies too often perfunctory. The piece needs a lighter touch to summon its mercurial passions.

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