This week, with three concerts in two evenings, Melbourne Recital Centre audiences were spoilt with being able to hear three internationally renowned pianists producing truly admirable and textbook musicianship on the splendid MRC Steinway grands. While concerts scheduled early in the week for well-known treasures Stephen McIntyre and Kristian Chong brought a near capacity audience to the Primrose Potter Salon, it was a surprise to see a small audience for superstar violinist Ilya Gringolts and pianist Aura Go, who were featured in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. Currently in Australia as the guest artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Gringolts’ fame and classy, sophisticated performances will potentially reach and inspire Australian audiences, students and string aficionados with his huge language and breadth of musical interpretation.
With a wealth of international experience with renowned orchestras and chamber ensembles, and as a previous winner of the Paganini International Violin Competition (1998), and a devoted advocate of contemporary repertoire, Gringoldts’ performances have been described as near perfect. Without fanfare, Gringoldts’ stage presence portrayed humility, authority and respect for Mozart’s inventive, highly contrapuntal Violin Sonata No. 35 in A, K526. Its opening Molto allegro displayed a pristine, sparkling and joyful spirit with its lightly textured, almost pastorale flights of fancy. Creating an intimate, airy and light atmosphere in the large concert space, Gringoldts’ Stradivarius gave us a very sweet, lyrical and appealing tone, with Aura Go’s equally sensitive partnership supporting his quite soft statements and, at times, fluid punctuation where some liberty was taken with unanimity in endings of phrases. Having quite independent contrapuntal lines, both instruments employed a richer, more sensuous expressive tone in the Andante, with tenderness and delicacy added to a calm, crystalline performance, gently breath-taking. In the final movement, Presto, both instruments flew in perpetual rhythmic motion, almost resembling a concert étude with ebbs and flows of admirable virtuosity and more robust timbres.
Following Wolfgang Mozart was Wolfgang Rhim’s Phantom und Eskapade, the second work launching us immediately into a surprising Australian Premier, immersing us into new and contemporary sounds. How much musical distance there was between the two Wolfgangs – we jumped over 200 years of music for violin and piano! Rhim described his intentions for this work as an exploration of two ideas, “the fantastic and the elusive, the non-conforming and the playful”. Imaginative and irregular, contrasting patterns between instruments contained explosive energy and free upper sonic suspensions, easily suggesting dance movements, with skittishness, mood changes and impulsive jumps, runs and slides. Moments of agitation and extreme high pitches and string harmonics, discordant at times, shared some gentle moments of piano percussive clusters and turbulent trills. Through the agitation and tonal exploration, there was a strong sense of purpose and cohesiveness, and these two exemplary musicians showed the audience that “freedom in art” requires the highest degree of virtuosity, precision and teamwork.
Following interval, Gringolts and Go took their instruments to another new stage in tone, dynamics, mood and expression with Robert Schumann’s very romantic and passionate four movement Sonata for Violin No. 2, Op. 121. Gringolts is exceptional for being able to produce the softest, most wistful tone that only a highly sensitive accompanist such as Go could support so beautifully without losing any presence and articulation in her softnesses. With many tonal variations required we enjoyed balanced and beautifully echoed solo phrases between the two performers, with a second movement providing capricious and gorgeous lyrical melodies.
Quite stunning and captivating was Gringolts’ spell-binding interpretation of the third movement, Leise, einfach, taken at a most languorous tempo allowing romantic triple stopped harmonies to lead a hypnotic circular waltz rhythm above harp-like piano chords. Sentimental, mesmerising, each variation of the haunting melody strengthened our feeling for the last waltz on a romantic stage. Acceleration, passion and colour then swept us through the final movement as both violin and piano took us on a more turbulent emotional journey. There was even a touch of romantic gypsy spirit and showmanship at times, with a further impressive acceleration into the closing bars.
How appropriate was the encore, Clara Schumann’s Romance No. 1, a dreamy, reflective and poetic ballad, giving us another sensuous last dance. Not surprising was the collective hushed sigh heard from a romantically inspired and admiring audience after the final diminishing tones.
Julie McErlain reviewed the recital given by Ilya Gringolts and Aura Go as part of the International Classics 2023 series at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall on 19th September 19, 2023.