Violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov have worked together for over twelve years recording extensively, including a 2009 release of Beethoven’s Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano.   Both artists have a light touch and measured approach that compliments one another sweetly.  On November 19th, at the 92Y, the pair performed Beethoven, Brahms and Busoni, closing out the first half of the 2016-2017 season in magnificent form.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in A Major is perfectly suited to Faust and Melnikov’s more cheerful spirit.  From the opening measure, you can feel the sunny disposition of the composition as Melinkov’s swift and subdued handling of a series of six ascending half steps over staccato chords on the violin.  The unity of the two instruments is not overstated as Melnikov performs the pauses perfectly. The second movement introduces a more somber minor key before ending in Allegro piacevole, meaning fast and charming.

Beethoven’s lighthearted sonata was a perfect aperitif for Brahms’s last Sonata, No. 3 in D Minor.  Brahms was principally a pianist but had the good fortune of a productive relationship with Joseph Joachim, considered to be one of the finest violinists of the era.  Faust, being a formalist, has studied Joachim thoroughly and her approach is historical but not pedantic.

The first movement, in sonata-allegro form, had a uplifting effect after the understated Beethoven sonata.  The straightforward accompaniment of the piano allows the violin’s soft voice to prevail in the gentle introduction to the first subject.  I felt jolted out of my seat as the piano took charge of the subject, subito forte, while Faust played the supporting role.  The feeling of sentimentality is then broken by the aggressive modulation to F-sharp major before skipping directly back to D minor.  The prolonged final statement stretched out beautifully.  The adagio’s simple melody in D major, a cavatina for violin filled with nostalgia and vibrato.  The playful third movement led into the Presto Agitato returning to the home key.  The final movement, a moody affair, ends in an all out assault with both musicians firing on all cylinders.

After intermission, we had the privilege of  listening to a rare performance of Ferrucio Busoni’s  (1866 – 1924) Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor, Op 36a.  Busoni was a child prodigy from a musical family in Tuscany who went on to become a renowned pianist.  However, he was not often heralded for his compositions.  Composed between the ages of 32 and 34, Busoni’s Sonata No.2 has leanings toward Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.109 and Bach’s chorale Wir wohl ist mir.  The work is in part a memorial to his friend and viloinist Victor Novácek, who with Busoni first performed the piece in Helsinki but passed away before it was fully written in the year 1900. The somber introductory statement leads ever further into the abyss with alternate chorale moments juxtaposed by frenzied dance sections.   The dramatic finale is sweet and loving.  Bach’s chorale is written into the piece, “How well I feel, oh Friend of souls, when I rest in your love.”

We look forward to the new year and more exciting musical programming at 92Y.  Director Hanna Arie-Gaifman continues to do an outstanding job at the helm of this vital institution where intimacy and collaboration are emphasized.