Mooredale Concerts presents Kolja Lessing reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, March 22, 2009, Walter Hall, Toronto.

Kolja Lessing is a versatile, adventurous musician who performs as a pianist and violinist, though rarely can he be found as pictured here, accompanying himself on both instruments at the same time.

At this recent Mooredale concert, Lessing did play his vintage violin in a compelling performance of Anton Kuerti’s 1998 composition Partita for solo violin (dedicated to Lessing). He followed that with a solo performance of a remarkable piece, Epitaffio per Alban Berg for piano (1936) by Wladimir Vogel (1896-1984). Lessing’s solos, imaginatively combined in this photograph, were the inner selections in a program enclosed by Lessing on violin accompanying master pianist Anton Kuerti in two rarely played pieces: Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F minor for piano and violin, Op.4 (1823), and Ferrrucio Busoni’s (1866-1924) Sonata in E minor for violin and piano Op.36a (1898). The charm of a Mooredale concert, apart from the opportunity to hear Kuerti play and make any music sound superior, is that the programs put lesser known gems on display to refresh our enjoyment in music of all periods.

The teenage Mendelssohn’s Sonata for violin and piano (1823) has lived in the shadow of his 1838 Sonata in F Major since Yehudi Mehuin discovered the later work during the 1950’s. Nonetheless, played feelingly by Lessing with Kuerti whose touch on the keyboard is like diamonds on velvet, the second movement has a Moonlight Sonata mix of tenderness and passion that is satisfying to the mind. The finale, ‘allegro agitato’ has the two instruments engaged in an elegant pursuit over imitative passages and harmonies that have a cheerful, fortissimo hustle before sliding home in a sudden, smooth pianissimo.

Lessing’s performance of the four movements of Kuerti’s Partita opens with an ‘allegretto’ that utters a marginally melodic progression of phrases in a plaintive voice mixed with an urbane playfulness that is characteristic of the composer even when he teaches.  The subsequent ‘Boureé’s’ balanced phrases (sort of tweedle dee/tweedle dum) sound like a conversation with oneself. The slower ‘Sarabande’ is emotional—quite sad, actually. The final ‘Gigue’ moves determinedly forward by small steps and quick spurts that verge on a feeling of dance. This well-played performance revealed a composition that is approachable and full of subtle interest.

I liked Vogel’s Epitaffio per Alban Berg for piano that builds from percussive introductory single note patterns into similar patterns of chords evolving a complex narrative structure of increasingly dense textures. The final section regresses to the opening, bare materials, evolves distinctly jazzy progressions, and moves dramatically to conclude with a bittersweet spooky softness that fades away into the longest held silence you could imagine before Lessing let the applause break out.

After intermission, Kuerti and Lessing presented a well-received performance of the seldom played but appealing Busoni Sonata in E minor. Composed in the great Romantic style at a time when Strauss, Webern, and Schoenberg were preparing the great dissonant shift of the 20th Century, the work appeals to our traditional sense of unity in variety. For instance, there are a couple of motives that appear throughout the work that give unity. It appears in the first movement in the quiet introduction followed by the second motive—an undulating piano phrase, and both reappear in the middle section. For variety, the second movement is a breathless Tarantella.

The two motives also appear in the huge third movement, but the dominant structure there is a four note theme from Bach’ chorale ‘Wie wohl is mir’ which both instruments take through four variations followed by a fugue of mounting excitement that tapers off into a mood of tranquility during a coda recalling the introduction. This performance was shapely, rounded and as satisfying in a basic way as a Renoir.

There is more about Kolja Lessing in this link.

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