The 2019-20 The Distinguished Artists Concert Series, founded and directed by John Orlando since 1984, now Emeritus Head of the Piano Department at Cabrillo College, opened this season’s performances with a splendid violin-piano recital at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz on Saturday evening, September 21st. The stunning program, featuring violinist Ilya Kaler and frequent pianist here, Alon Goldstein at the mighty Yamaha CFX concert grand gave a rousing performance “as advertised” –- in a word “sensational.” While Goldstein often deceptively appears as if in a meditative trance, Ilya Kaler strode out with his fiddle in an energetic, forceful stance. Yet the duo performed “as one.” Kaler is the only violinist to have gold-medalled in all three of these huge international competitions: The Paganini (1981), The Sibelius (1985) and the Tchaikovsky (1986). He continues to concertize all over the world and is currently on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute. Goldstein also is in demand around the world, and his Festival appearances include not only the Marlboro in Vermont but also the super-exclusive Verbier in the Swiss Alps.
This generous and varied program opened with the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major (1709) by Antonio Vivaldi, a composer all but unknown until the early 20th century, when huge numbers of manuscripts began to be discovered. Kaler’s violin produced an exalted big sound, whereas in this interesting piece the piano part of Goldstein’s was quite recessive, more accompaniment than equals. The Prelude displayed Kaler’s power and intensity, the Corrente was full of sprightly running figures, and the Gigue was a jolly dance appropriate either for a gathering of peasants or aristocrats, This fresh and imaginative work was a welcome contrast to some of Vivaldi’s ‘wallpaper music.’
This warm-up was followed by Beethoven’s big, famous “Kreutzer” sonata (1803), perhaps the most important violin-piano work ever. This incredibly difficult and popular piece was easily dashed off with appropriate intensity, an “exploration” carried off with great élan by the two musicians. It opened with a delicate Adagio, segued into a presto, then an andante with variations (a Beethoven favorite), and finally a presto with lots of running figuration. Both performers were literally and figuratively always on the same ‘page‘ in conception and execution with power, precision and tenderness when needed. If the Kaler-Goldstein Duo should make a CD or DVD of this work, it would compare favorably with the best versions already recorded.
After an Intermission buzzing from the excited audience, the brilliant duo returned to play part of an early Brahms work, the Scherzo from the 1853 F. A. E. Sonata. The composition was full of the 20-year-old composer’s famous Sturm und Drang, similar to his Piano Concerto No. 1. The Scherzo was a ferocious “chase,” replete with hunting horn and drum effects. Next we heard Leonard Bernstein’s Masque, a piano solo from his Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety,” which began, under Goldstein’s hands, slowly and hypnotically with a mysterious jollity that suggested: “Halloween is coming!” Plus” Who’s behind the mask?” It was a great tribute to the super composer/pianist/conductor, and it was deeply felt as played by Goldstein.
Concluding the program was a set of short, charming works by the brilliant early-mid 20th century violinist/trickster, the Viennese born United States “refugee” Fritz Kreisler, who was, according to Kaler, a great “innovative technician” and greatly influenced the first half of the last century. He was also famous for “discovering” manuscripts of works he himself had composed. We heard a sampling of some of these from 1911 – 1938 and they all communicated the consummate charm of this violinist. Although some of these referred back to Strauss waltzes, they also seemed somewhat modern and were effective personal communications to members of the audience. Among these Kreisler samples we heard a splendid romantic lullaby, a Chinese tambourine, a caprice and his late (1938) Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta, all performed with wonderful style and ease by our duo. These (and other) pieces will live on forever in the literature as sweet bon-bons and encores.
The one encore by the world-class Kaler-Goldstein Duo was a rousing version of the ever-popular Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1 (like Liszt’s, actually Gypsy). Be on the lookout for these great artists again: this Duo, Alon Goldstein as solo recitalist, or both of them with the also Israeli super cellist and former basketball star Amit Peled, either as soloist or in their “Tempest Trio,” which Shakespeare himself would greatly enjoy.