A trip to Rockport, MA.’s Shalin Liu Performance Center (“Shalin”) (www.rockportmusic.org) is always a cause for celebration. The Shalin is one of our treasured music venues.
It shares many similarities (in both physical appearance and acoustic properties) to another favorite hall of mine: the splendid Ozawa Hall at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA. Both venues have architectural details that are honed specifically to deliver acoustic music in all its textural glory, crispness and sparkling projection. Each building has irregular stone and wood surfaces; wrap-around balconies and soaring ceilings- features that allow acoustic music and voices to project with quicksilver dynamics and flow (with each note distinct and vital).
The Shalin has a particularly beautiful architectural feature: a wall of glass treats the audience to a panoramic view of Rockport’s rocky coastline (and the swirling Atlantic ocean beyond) as players perform on stage.
On a Sunday afternoon in mid-February, a wintry storm brought snow squalls and fog rolling past the Shalin. Despite the storm, a capacity audience nestled into its warm confines to enjoy an intimate recital by one of today’s great young dynamic duos: violinist Christian Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt. Several years ago, I reported in these pages on Tetzlaff’s recital at Ozawa Hall and I still recall the magic of that performance as he held the audience in a hushed spell with his singing lyricism and his ability, (as a young player fresh on the world’s stage), to inhabit the emotional core of each piece he performed. Now, several years later, I was eager to hear what this young master violinist was up to next.
The unfolding beauty of the Tetzlaff and Vogt recital at the Shalin matched the dynamic wintry scene unfolded outside: fog rolling in and out of the harbor; storm waves crashing upon rocks and sea gulls wheeling above (as if reveling to the music on the stage below).
Due to the wintry conditions outside, it naturally took a few minutes for the players to warm up their instruments (and their muscles) to meet with aplomb the nimble challenges presented by the first challenging piece on their program: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.7. In the First Movement, Tetzlaff’s strings sounded a bit steely (as he soared in his high registers) and Vogt struggled to get his yet-warm fingers to fully pinpoint each and every swirling note in Beethoven’s blistering thicket of piano runs and curling notes. But once the blood started to flow in every capillary (and once every string warmed to the task), it was a glorious feast of sounds, colors and textures that followed from these two master musicians.
The Beethoven shimmered and crashed (like the churning surf outside) with Vogt pouncing on bass notes with great power, sending his whole body lurching towards the keyboard like a runner erupting out of his race blocks.
In the Final Movement, both players bathed in the glow of their surging duet on Beethoven’s singing lines (reminding of the great Beethoven Violin Concerto and its regal presence). Then, in consummate synthesis, these two partners scampered over light piano runs and skittish bow phrases dashing home to Beethoven’s entwining, harmonious conclusion.
After the Beethoven, the audience caught their breath and entered the dreamy, pungent world of Bartok (with the ebb and flow of fog outside the Shalin a ghostly companion to this music). Bartok’s Second Sonata for Violin and Piano contained great drama: fragile slips up and down the violin that quivered with mysterious sounds and textures; piano passagework that contained low bass rumbles (and heavy pedal action) and quick melodic lines that sounded like jazz riffs (with Tetzlaff using a frenetic bow and string pluck action that was accompanied by his swaying to his tip-toes to the dance. Both musicians held the last notes of this piece into a long simmering decay that lingered like smoke in the hall (with both performers and audience transfixed in a moment of calm and silence at the end of this incandescent journey).
The second half of the program was devoted to the cheery bravado of Mozart in his dashing Sonata in F Major. Tetzlaff and Vogt fell into an embrace of Mozart’s sweet dancing themes with great dynamic synergy and bravado. The drama was propelled on the coattails of a dazzling Mozart waltz that was filled with sunny feelings on the soaring wisps of Tetzlaff’s light-as-air bowing that entwined with Vogt’s dancing high piano touches. The concert concluded with Schubert’s Rondo for Piano and Violin in B Minor, a piece that held constant surprises in Schubert’s landscape filled with stormy rondo flourishes contrasted with softly singing lines. Tetzlaff and Vogt traversed this landscape as one delectable musical partnership- like two Rockport fisherman tacking their boat into the wind to naturally let Schubert’s surprises of dynamic ebb and flow fill their sails and lead them onward to their destination.
A delectable taste of what was heard at the Shalin in this recital is captured on a recent recording finding Tetzlaff and Vogt in a performance of the Brahms Violin Sonatas [Ondine; www.ondine.net]. This disc captures the intimacy of these two partners flourishing in their trade: Tetzlaff unfirling Brahm’s piquant and expressive lines (beautifully recorded with nice timbre and resiny quality to his violin even in its highest lyrical soars) and Vogt contrasting with his own gossamer color and, when called forth by Brahms, a velvet fistful of pressured keyboard hits. The only downside is Vogt’s piano is a bit cut-off in its full body and harmonic richness on this mid-hall perspective recording, but this is more than made up for by the superb imaging of the recording that has Tetzlaff standing just to the right of Vogt at his piano, adding great intimacy to the vibrant interplay between these consummate musical partners.
Another world class violin and piano partnership comes to Boston to create their own masterful recital…