CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | 7:30 PM

Leonidas Kavakos
Enrico Pace

Zankel Hall
Leonidas Kavakos, “astonishingly virtuosic and blazingly insightful” (Guardian) and Enrico Pace, winner of the International Liszt Piano Competition, appear onstage as “a study in contrast, like the Odd Couple, but together these two opposites make magic” (The Buffalo News). They’ve been bringing down houses together since 2006, and this season they come to Carnegie Hall in a recital that is bound to astound.
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The Program

SERGEI PROKOFIEV
Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80

About the Composer


Prokofiev spent much of his life balancing precariously between two extremes, his music being regarded as too conservative by some and too advanced by others. Having established himself before World War I as a leader of the Russian avant-garde with works like the Scythian Suite and the Second Piano Concerto, Prokofiev turned his back on the Soviet Union after the Revolution and immersed himself in the cosmopolitan culture of the West. In Europe, he soon found himself eclipsed by his fellow émigré Igor Stravinsky; in the US, he competed for attention with Sergei Rachmaninoff. Many of his most popular works date from this period of self-imposed exile, including the fairytale opera The Love for Three Oranges, the Third Piano Concerto, the Lieutenant Kijé Suite, and the ballet Romeo and Juliet. But the pull of his homeland remained strong, and in 1936, Prokofiev returned to a hero’s welcome in Moscow. Within a few years, the political winds changed; he and his music came under withering ideological criticism. He died in 1953 on the same day as his chief patron and persecutor, Stalin.


About the Work


By the time Prokofiev began sketching his F-Minor Violin Sonata in 1938, he had already written his two violin concertos and the Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56. He dedicated the Op. 80 Sonata to the great Ukrainian violinist David Oistrakh, who gave the premiere with pianist Lev Oborin in Moscow on October 23, 1946. The work was well received and won the composer a coveted Stalin Prize in 1947. Shortly after, however, the Soviet Union’s cultural thought police began ratcheting up the pressure on Prokofiev. In a formal condemnation issued in 1948, he, Dmitri Shostakovich, and several other prominent composers were charged with trafficking in “formalist distortions and antidemocratic tendencies.” Although Prokofiev desperately tried to rehabilitate himself by issuing a public mea culpa, an official ban on performances of his works made the remaining five years of his life miserable. 


A Closer Listen


A somber mood prevails throughout this virtuosic four-movement sonata, intermittently dispelled by passages of radiant lyricism. Prokofiev’s aggressively modernist (but fundamentally tonal) language is spiked with pungent dissonances and driving, percussive rhythms. The plodding, funereal theme of the opening Andante assai is subtly transfigured in the movement’s second half, as the muted violin drapes delicate runs over glacial piano chords—a sonority characteristic of Prokofiev. Equally typical is the broad, soaring melody that surges up unexpectedly in the Allegro brusco, tempering the movement’s peasant-like vitality and crudeness. The last two movements are a similar study in contrasts: The gently oscillating arpeggio patterns of the Andante make an effective foil for the restlessly shifting meters of the final Allegrissimo, a deliciously off-balance moto perpetuo that concludes in a tranquil recollection of the sonata’s beginning.


—Harry Haskell

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

LERA AUERBACH
Selections from Twenty-Four Preludes for Violin and Piano, Op. 46

About the Composer


Lera Auerbach is a charismatic composer-pianist in the grand Romantic tradition. Born in the Siberia-bordering city of Chelyabinsk, she took piano lessons from her mother and appeared on nationwide television in the Soviet Union at age eight. In 1991, her reputation as a wunderkind brought her to the US on a concert tour; she decided to stay and enrolled at The Juilliard School, where she studied composition with Milton Babbitt and Robert Beaser. In the past decade, her career has taken off in multiple directions: In addition to her musical activities, Auerbach is a prize-winning poet and novelist. She has had three major premieres in the last half of this year alone: an orchestral work, Icarus, in Verbier, Switzerland; the Finnish National Ballet’s production of her full-length Cinderella in Helsinki; and an operatic version of her own play, Gogol, at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.


About the Work


Auerbach has written no fewer than three sets of 24 preludes that explore all of the major and minor keys: Op. 41 for solo piano, Op. 47 for cello and piano, and Op. 46 for violin and piano. All three date from 1999, when the 26-year-old composer was poised to break out onto the international scene. The works are not only vehicles for her virtuosity, but also frameworks for exploring the expressive spectrum of the tonal system. The three sets reveal an affinity not only for Bach’s canonic preludes and fugues, but also Shostakovich’s Op. 34 Preludes for Piano, which Auerbach has transcribed for viola and piano. Her style combines the harmonic and textural richness of Liszt and Debussy with an admixture of Russian mysticism derived from Scriabin, Gubaidulina, and Shostakovich.


A Closer Listen


The sense of drama and reverie that pervades Auerbach’s music is enhanced by its sharply limned gestures, vivid atmospheric effects, and pulsating rhythms. Despite her liberal use of dissonance, the Op. 46 Preludes are firmly grounded in tonality. They are also surprisingly traditional in terms of instrumental technique: Auerbach’s repertoire of special effects hardly ranges beyond the spectral screeching of the ponticello violin (with the bow placed near the bridge) in No. 16 and the thunderous piano tone cluster that ends No. 14. Yet there is no dearth of novel and captivating sonorities: Witness the ethereal sound of the stratospheric violin combined with the piano’s deep, bell-like tolling in No. 12.  The moods of these miniature tone poems range from that of high tragedy in No. 20 to Ravel-like simplicity of No. 23. But the most dramatic contrast comes in the final prelude, when the violin’s sizzling pyrotechnics give way to a gentle reinterpretation of the haunting lullaby in No. 15. Auerbach compresses all 24 tonalities into these 12 magical bars to be played “as if in a dream or seen through clouds of memories.”


—Harry Haskell

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”

About the Composer


Beethoven’s 10 sonatas for violin and piano date from the years 1797–1812, when he emerged from the shadow of Haydn and Mozart and forged the “heroic” style of his so-called middle period. As a barn-storming pianist, he first captured the imagination of Viennese audiences; keyboard virtuoso Wenzel Tomaschek was so bowled over by his playing that he couldn’t touch his own instrument for days. Yet Beethoven’s rapid maturation as a composer in the 1790s was no less impressive. By his 30th year, he had a clutch of masterpieces, including three piano concertos, six string quartets, and one symphony. Over the next dozen years (his increasing deafness notwithstanding), a flood of ambitious and formally innovative works flowed from his pen: the opera Fidelio, the “Eroica” Symphony, a violin concerto, the three “Razumovsky” quartets, the “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, and the “Kreutzer” Sonata.


About the Work


In his first eight violin sonatas, Beethoven gradually moved away from 18th-century sonata style, in which the violin was subordinate to the piano. With the ninth “Kreutzer” Sonata, there is no longer any question that the two players are equal partners. In this case, the performers were Beethoven himself and the English mulatto violinist George Bridgetower, who met the composer in Vienna in the spring of 1803. Beethoven had already sketched the first two movements of the sonata, and when a concert with Bridgetower was arranged for late May, he hastily combined them with a finale he had written for another sonata in the same key. Both the work’s popular success and the exuberance of its violin writing owed much to Bridgetower’s virtuosity, as Beethoven freely acknowledged. Unfortunately, the two men later quarreled, prompting Beethoven to award the dedication and naming rights of the sonata to the French virtuoso Rodolphe Kreutzer.


A Closer Listen


Beethoven described the “Kreutzer” Sonata as having been written “almost in the manner of a concerto”; it is a formidably difficult work for both the violinist and pianist. As if in recognition of their equal status, the slow introduction opens with a chordal phrase for the violin alone. The piano answers in kind, and together the instruments insinuate a two-note motif that we soon recognize as the germ of the Presto. The main part of the first movement is a tour de force that proceeds by fits and starts, moving between A minor and A major, with frequent lyrical interludes and a majestic second theme in Beethoven’s best heroic mode. The second movement, a genial set of variations on a lilting, syncopated theme in F major, is no less dazzling in its intricate, finger-twisting passagework. The final Presto, this time solidly in A major, bursts out of the gate in helter-skelter triple time. Its athletic rhythms, lively repartee, and explosive outbursts encapsulate the bravura spirit of the entire sonata.


—Harry Haskell

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

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