Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More Gifted Young iPalpiti Soloists at Rolling Hills

Duo de Ascaniis: Davide and Sara de Ascaniis.


Duo de Ascaniis, Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

It is a paradox that, in a life as short and as crowded with compositional activity as was that of Franz Schubert, so many of the works produced in those few years, particularly the last two of them, are not only exceptionally spacious but also convey, in their harmonic and melodic processes, a sense of revealing potentially limitless expressive possibilities. 

This is certainly true of the opening Andante molto section of Schubert’s Fantasie in C major D.934, Op.159, written at the end of 1827 and notably headed “for pianoforte and violin” (rather than the other way around) when it was posthumously published. The complex tremolando-laden accompaniment to the almost static, hovering pianissimo violin line above certainly justifies this primacy, as does the piano part’s ongoing elaboration, both independently and when partnering the violin, throughout the work’s 20+ minutes’ duration. 

Schubert in 1825: Portrait by Wilhelm August Rieder.
Both elements in that opening were projected with the proper sense of suspended animation but quiet portent by siblings Davide and Sara de Ascaniis, two Italian members of this year's intake by iPalpiti of highly gifted young performers from many countries. Their performance of the work was the main item in the final “Second Sundays at Two” concert of RHUMC's 2017-2018 season.

Paradoxically again, though, this introduction for all its breadth is actually quite short, and after only 36 measures Schubert sideslips into the allegretto second section. This usually comes across as a lighthearted, almost teasing follow-on, but the Duo made its sprightliness unusually vehement, even angry, in tone, with some sacrifice of light and shade in its later stages. 

Again Schubert comes to a halt, more questioning this time, and then the third, Andantino, section arrives as a set of variations on the song Sei mir gegrüßt ("I greet you!") D.741, Op.20 No.1, dating from some six years earlier. Though only four in number, the variations are lengthy and include several repeats, which regrettably the Duo did not observe. For me this threw Schubert’s carefully weighted structure out of balance, and marred what continued otherwise to be a fine performance through the remaining three sections. 

Leos Janáček. 
Contrary to what was on the program leaflet, the Schubert was played second, not first, and with the change of order unannounced this made the abrupt violin sforzando from Signor de Ascaniis that opens the Con moto first movement of Janáček’s Violin Sonata JW.7/7, composed in 1914, even more of a shock than it would have been to an audience not expecting instead Schubert’s gentle piano oscillations.

This was also a fine performance – indeed I wonder whether Janáček’s unique, shrilly ecstatic, sound-world, in the hands of these fine performers sounding particularly spontaneous and improvisatory, did not suit them rather more than that of late Schubert – but even in a work as concise as this they did not see fit to observe the structurally important repeat in the first movement. Even with it the movement lasts less than five minutes, and the whole four-movement sonata not much more than 15, so its omission was simply inexplicable.

Igor Frolov.
Due partly to the loss of these repeats, the given program of just the two works was over inside of 40 minutes, so that after an on-stage interview by RHUMC Director of Music Charles Dickerson with Laura Schmieder, wife of iPalpiti founder Eduard Schmieder, the Duo still had time for a substantial encore.

Unfortunately, the Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, Op.19, composed in 1991 by the Russian Igor Frolov (1937-2013), was for me not so much substantial as interminable. Highly virtuosic and demanding for both performers, it distorts and distends the familiar tunes unmercifully, and certainly did nothing to help my general aversion to Gershwin. However, judging by the enthusiastic applause this highly gifted duo received when the piece was finally over, no-one else in the audience felt the same about it. 


Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Sunday, July 10 2018, 7.30 p.m.
Images: Duo de Ascaniis: Courtesy Fondazione Gioventù Musicale d’Italia; Schubert: Wikimedia CommonsJanáček: Robert Greenberg Music; Frolov: Classical Music Online.

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