Saturday, 31 May 2014

Paganini at Schloss Wackerbarth

Schloss Wackerbarth
Schloss Wackerbarth
Vivaldi, Locatelli, Paganini: Karen Gomyo and Ismo Eskelinen: Dresden Music Festival at Schloss Wackerbarth
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 27 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Spectacular duets for violin and guitar from young duo

For our first visit to the Dresden Music Festival (on 27 May 2014) we attended a concert given by American violinist Karen Gomyo and Finnish guitarist Ismo Eskelinen at Schloss Wackerbarth. The centre piece of their programme was a sequence of piece for violin and guitar by Niccolo Paganini, along with music by Antonio Vivaldi, Pietro Antonio Locatelli and Mauro Giuliani.

Karen Gomyo
Karen Gomyo
Schloss Wackerbarth is an historic winery on the outskirts of Dresden. In addition to the vineyards and the historic buildings there are modern wine-making facilities and the concert took place in one of these buildings, a glass hall surrounded by wine-making equipment with views of the vine covered hillsides. The acoustic proved extremely attractive and sympathetic to the duo; the combination of violin and guitar can be tricky to balance but Gomyo and Eskelinen managed this superbly throughout the concert.

They opened with the Sonata for violin and basso continuo Op.2 no.2 RV 31 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) in which Eskelinen played the basso continuo on the guitar. A short, rhapsodic prelude introduced us to the rather different, yet attractive texture of violin and guitar. This was followed by an elegant Allegro with Gomyo displaying lovely sweet tone and fine technique. A free and rhapsodic Andante led to a final Allegro full of perky charm.

Ismo Eskelinen
The Sonata da camera Op. 6/12  by Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695 - 1764) also saw Eskelinen playing the basso continuo part. Locatelli's sonata was less busy than that of Vivaldi, enabling Gomyo to display her elegant, fine-grained tone in the Adagio. The brisk and incisively stylish Allegro was given a lovely transparent feel by the violin/guitar combination. A lovely sicilano Andante was followed by a lively Allegro made interesting by the off beats in the violin; a complete delight.

Niccolo Paganini (1782 - 1840) wrote his collection Centone di Sonate Op. 64 around 1828. The Sonata no. 1 in A minor from the collection is a two movement work combining an Introduzione and a Rondoncinio. The first movement started with a dramatic rhapsody before leading to a more structured section with a lovely jaunty, rather naughty tune. In the rondo, the repeats of the main theme gave the composer the excuse for exploring all sorts of styles, and Gomyo responded well to the technical challenges playing with brilliance and charm.

Afterwards Gomyo played Paganini's Caprice for Violin solo in A major, Op.1 no.21 again showing superb aplomb in the face of Paganini's demands. The duo finished the first half with Paganini's own arrangement of his Caprice in A minor, Op.1 no.24 (La Folia) for violin and guitar. It was still very much the violinist's show, but Eskelinen did get one or two moments to show off.

The interval gave us a chance to wander round the historic grounds of the winery, and also to sample some of their wares; the shop was open too for those who wanted to take some home.

The first half opened with a work for guitar solo, Rossiniana for Guitar solo Op.119 no.1 by Mauro Giuliani (1781 - 1829) Giuliani was an Italian guitar virtuoso, cellist and composer and he wrote six fantasies on themes for Rossini's operas. Eskelinen played one which used themes from Otello, Italiana in Algeri and Armida, a charming piece in which Giuliani treated each of his themes in quite straightforward fashion but brought in increasing technical elaboration in each repeat of the music. All performed by Eskelinen with charm and skill.

Gomyo then joined Eskelinen for the Romanza from Paganini's Grand Sonata for guitar and violin, Op.53. This was the only work in the programme where Paganini seemed to allow the guitar to occasionally take the lead and in the whole piece the guitar seemed more dominant in the texture which made for an attractive change.

Paganini's Sonate for Violin and Guitar in A major Op.2 no.1 was again a two movement work, the first movement combined a singing violin with straightforward guitar accompaniment, the second a charming polonaise theme with increasing elaboration in the violin. The duo finished with the Variations on the Carneval in Venice, Op.10, a work which proved an amazing compendium of outrageous violin techniques, all brought off with aplomb by Gomyo.

The capacity audience was rightly most enthusiastic and we were treated to to encores, two movements from Piazzolla's suite L'Histoire du Tango. Both were finely played but seemed to be in too great a contrast to the main body of the programme; rather too long and too serious to be encore pieces. Very finely played, the two encores gave a sense that this is what the performers would rather have been playing.

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