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'Ravel's blues' an early Peninsula Festival highlight
Maurice Ravel famously called the piano and violin 'incompatible instruments', before composing his 'Sonata for Violin and Piano'. He was right in a sense: the piano is all hard-edged percussive sounds and the violin smooth long-phrased bow strokes. But that incompatibility is also the source of the greatest strength of the partnership between the two instruments. It provides the contrast, the light and shade, in a dialogue between two equal but different partners.
This performance showed how effective and moving a musical partnership can be when the partners have played together for a long time. The musicians' enthusiasm for and knowledge of the music added hugely to audience enjoyment. We learned that in Mozart's day, the role of the pianist in such a duo was not the support act we are accustomed to today, but the dominant role. Kristian Chong gleefully advised that Mozart named his work a sonata for 'piano and violin', not 'violin and piano'.
The Mozart sonata was an exuberant and delightful piece and performance was enhanced by the setting. A gentle afternoon breeze wafted through the open doors of the winery music room and the sounds of birdlife added local colour.
The Beethoven sonata (No 4, Opus 23), was an early work and showed the composer in the process of establishing his own authentic musical voice. Sophie Rowell regards the key of A-minor as 'the most selfish key - driven by turbulent self-absorption'. Her energetic, balletic performance had her balancing on tiptoes – occasionally on just one foot – so carried away was she in the anguish and pathos of the music. She took the audience with her every pirouette of the way.
The finale was Ravel's Violin Sonata No 2, written in 1927 and inspired by the new craze in Paris for jazz. Rowell described the first movement as 'two people walking side-by-side in the Tuileries Gardens', each talking but not listening to the other. The second movement -listed simply as 'Blues moderato' - showed its provenance with clear reference to Gershwin and other standard jazz classics. The third (unnamed) movement brought the performance to a speedy and exhilarating conclusion.