Violin and piano recital inspires respect for little-heard sonatas

April 19, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The excellence of yesterday's violin and piano recital by Joseph Bykov and Maribeth Gowen in Westminster Hall was partly the excellence of the performers themselves -- Bykov's sweet, focused tone and the reliability and sensitivity of his partner -- and partly the fact that they brought these qualities to bear on such interesting repertory.

When had anyone in the audience -- except perhaps for a Russian emigre violinist or two -- heard of, much less heard, Leonid Nikolayev's Sonata in G Minor? The composer was a remarkable St. Petersburg pianist in the years leading up to and following the Revolution and an even more remarkable teacher (his students included Maria Yudina, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Pavel Serebriakov and Dmitri Shostakovich). He was also -- to judge by this sonata -- a remarkable composer.

This piece is the equal of better-known ones by Faure, Saint-Saens and Grieg. The violin is given achingly beautiful melodies to play -- particularly in the dreamy, Rachmaninov-like slow movement -- and the monster piano part is brilliant and effective enough to attract any pianist with pride in his or her fingers.

Bykov -- he's the assistant concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony -- and Gowen played the piece beautifully, making the most of its arching melodies and disguising those moments, such as a few in the final movement, when the composer's inspiration seems to dry up.

Grieg's Sonata No. 2 in G Major is not played much -- audiences usually hear the more frequently played No. 3 in C Minor -- and it made a welcome visitor, particularly in so persuasive a performance. The slow movement came off especially well; Bykov and Gowen captured the music's improvisational, swaying innocence and successfully built the movement to several sonorous peaks. The finale, with its rush of melody, brought the recital to an exciting conclusion.

Earlier in the program the duo played Villa-Lobos' fantasia-like Sonata No. 1 and Brahms' Sonata No. 2. The former received a performance in which the color and the warmth of the music came through. The Brahms Sonata was slightly less successful. Bykov honored the composer's movement markings -- bringing amiability to the first, tranquillity to the second and graciousness to the third.

But while this is Brahms in a reflective, rather than a riotous, mood, and while the performance captured the music's warmth and lyricism, it could have -- particularly in its final movement -- used a little more thrust.

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