James Ehnes and Stewart Goodyear Recital reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, December 6, 2007.

Mozart’s Sonata No.35 in A Major, K.526, composed in 1787, the same year as Don Giovanni, is a true duo of equal partners. The Andante is especially affecting. Ehnes and Goodyear generate a magical mood, present and reflective, deep like moonlight reflected in a pond laced with lilies. The final Presto is bright crystal, balancing a liquid flow of trilling piano arpeggios with the lightly stroked staccato violin.

One is humbled by the brilliance of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor for solo violin, BWV 1004. Bach takes a plaintive four-bar phrase though kaleidoscopic variations of musical expression in both major and minor modes. His pyrotechnics of replication and mutation are said to be “nearly impossible to play.”

James Ehnes dedicated this performance to his late friend, Frank Daly. He played Bach’s slow, triple meter melody with such tender passion, it sounded almost like speaking a remembrance of the man’s life. Ehnes astonishes by his virtuosity: flawless technique and even tone especially notable throughout the multi-textured, double-voiced closing portion.

Stewart Goodyear premiered his tribute to bluesman Robert Johnson, a work commissioned by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. Entitled “Dogged by Hell Hounds”, the piece is like a breath of street life flowing through the open window of a drawing room. The title is partly explained by the facts of Johnson’s life that ended in 1937 at age 27, poisoned by alcohol given him by the husband of a woman Johnson was loving.

Also instructive is the Johnson Legend that depicts him as a young, Mississippi Delta itinerant field worker “with a burning desire to become a great blues musician [who] was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. There he was met by…the Devil…who took the guitar from Johnson, tuned the guitar so that he could play anything that he wanted, and handed it back to him in return for his soul. Within less than a year’s time, in exchange for his everlasting soul, Robert Johnson became the king of the Delta blues singers, able to play, sing, and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard.

Goodyear’s 12 bar blues-based composition reflects the easy stride of the blues, sometimes described as ‘a mule loping through Texas,’ as well as the harsh, crabbed, complexities of Johnson’s struggle for survival and self-expression.

Richard Strauss’ orchestral Sonata in E-Flat Major, Opus 18(1887), with its playful Finale brought the audience to its feet in appreciation of the splendid collaboration of these two great players.

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