Saturday, May 4, 2019

Audrey Park, 2019 Knox Competition Winner

Audrey Park.

"First Fridays at First!—fff", First Lutheran Church, Torrance

… and still they come, yet more astonishingly talented and youthful virtuosi from the southern Californian performance competitions arena. This year’s winner of the Edith Knox Competition, held under the auspices of Redondo Beach’s Peninsula Symphony Orchestra Association and open to instrumentalists under the age of 25, was 16-year-old Audrey Park.

Ms. Park will be performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Peninsula Symphony on Sunday June 30, but meanwhile—as has been the case with previous winners of this competition—her first solo appearance after her victory was at the May “First Fridays at First!–fff” lunchtime recital, presented as ever by Classical Crossroads Inc., with a program of six items that cut a directly chronological path from the early 18th to the end of the 20th century.

Possibly a portrait of
the young J. S. Bach.
Accompanist Jiayi Shi was on hand for later but to start, Ms. Park took the platform alone for the first movement, Adagio, of J. S. Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor for Solo Violin BWV 1001, composed some time before 1720. Her performance was grave, reflective, and generously phrased, with very clean double-stopping, and my initial impression that she wasn’t digging very far beneath the notes was belied by a steady gain in intensity in the movement’s latter stages. Not for the last time in this recital did I wish that we were hearing the whole work.

Due to the variations on it composed by a gazillion other composers, everyone knows the 24th and last of the Caprices Op. 1 for Solo Violin by Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840). But after showing her legato abilities in Bach’s long lines from around a century earlier, Ms. Park followed up, not with No. 24, but with No. 1 of the Caprices, an exercise in spiccato playing. While no more successful than many a more experienced violinist in entirely avoiding the odd squeak as the music bounced into the stratosphere, she made all the rapid wrist oscillation look easy as she negotiated Paganini’s two-minute obstacle course.

Saint-Saëns as a boy.
On a half-century or so to 1863, when Camille Saint-Saëns, still under 30, wrote his Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, Op. 28, for violin and a classical-sized orchestra—but given here with Jiayi Shi playing piano. Ms. Park gave the all-too-brief Andante (malinconico) opening section a stately, almost baroque, grace, and then, with Ms. Shi’s careful observation of the ma non troppo qualification in the introduction to the main Allegro giving her plenty of elbow-room, made the most of the fun Saint-Saëns has putting his irrepressibly jaunty and insouciant main theme through its paces.

Forty more years, and over to Russia for a violin/piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale, the last of his Six Morceaux pour Piano Op. 51 (as the first published edition titled them in 1882, the year of their composition). Ms. Park’s easy rubato here showed her to be as comfortable with the gentle salon style this music required as with the more overtly demanding pieces.

Jiayi Shi.
Only last month Classical Crossroads’ companion “Interludes” concert included a performance of Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94 from 1943, in a clarinet arrangement (reviewed here). On the present occasion Ms. Park and Ms. Shi played the first movement only of the Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94bis, which as the opus number indicates is another arrangement of that Flute Sonata, this time by Prokofiev himself.

Serge Prokofiev.
By now Ms. Park’s spacious, confident way of phrasing in unhurried music like this Moderato had become familiar, and here the way she played, without snatching, the demanding octave-leap grace notes with which Prokofiev decorates his indelibly memorable opening melody was particularly impressive. Also, her fine-drawn handling of the movement’s questioning, inconclusive end once again made one long for the remainder of the sonata to follow.

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994).
Instead, however, there was one more half-century leap, this time into uncompromising modernism with one of Lutosławski’s final works. Bringing the competition motif neatly full-circle, his Subito for Violin and Piano was commissioned as a test-piece for the 1994 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, where the performances by the 16 semi-finalists sadly took place shortly after Lutosławski’s death.

“Subito” means “suddenly,” and the piece certainly embraces that, springing into life with swirling fortissimo streams of 32nd notes against stabbed, long-held piano chords, and then proceeding with a small catalog of violin-playing techniques including high atmospherics and trills, rapid double-stopping, staccato, etc. This four-minute firecracker of a work may have disappointed some audience-members anticipating a cozy encore to depart on, but it left an indelible impression. Audrey Park’s formidable talent will flower in years to come.


“First Fridays at First! – fff”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, May 3, 2019.
Images: Audrey Park: Great Composers Competition online; Bach: Wikimedia Commons; Paganini: Getty Images, courtesy ClassicfM; Saint-Saëns: Wikimedia Commons; Jiayi Shi: Aurora Music; Prokofiev: Freedom from Religion FoundationLutosławski: Wikimedia Commons.

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