By Jon Sobel
“Fantasy” was the theme but versatility and diversity the watchwords the other night at the 92nd Street Y‘s Kaufmann Concert Hall in New York. Celebrated violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and pianist Akira Eguchi‘s program ranged from the 28-year-old Beethoven’s teemingly imaginative first violin sonata to an evocative work for violin and electronics, “Wreck of the Umbria,” written in 2009 by the then also 28-year-old Jakub Ciupinski and accompanied by video footage of the sunken Italian ship that, together with Meyers’s commission, inspired the piece. In between, we heard familiar pieces by Arvo Pärt and Morten Lauridsen outside their usual settings, Ravel’s rousing “Tzigane,” and one of the last compositions by Einojuhani Rautavaara, who died only last year.
Meyers attacked the flashy “Tzigane” with percussive, almost schizophrenic force, her 1741 Guarneri violin’s dark, room-filling lower register resonating like the skin of a drum. Inspired by Hungarian gypsy tunes, the piece netted the most enthusiastic response and a curtain call of its own.
The program’s most substantive selections, though, were the Beethoven and the Rautavaara. The first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in D major, Op. 12 No. 1, was sunny and straightforward but also richly resonant. In the theme and variations of the second movement, the duo displayed exquisite sensitivity to the music’s spaciousness; Eguchi established a delicate rhythmic feel that left plenty of room for shock when the third variation’s minor-key triplets arrived with all the requisite heat. They then leaned into the final variation’s rocking off-beats with a jousting spirit that I suspect would have pleased the composer. And after the laughing finale I felt I could hardly imagine this sonata played any better.
Meyers commissioned Rautavaara’s “Fantasia” and has recorded it in its original violin and orchestra version. Here she presented it in an arrangement for violin and piano for the first time. The piece treads the border between romanticism and modernism and presents the composer in a thoughtful mood. Wandering melodies over gently flowing piano accompaniment evolved into watery complexities, with Meyers conveying supreme confidence and Eguchi showing a fine dynamic sense on the exposed piano passages. A lyrical triplet section near the end combined Mendelssohnian flow with Nordic cool.
It was a relatively lengthy piece to which one could surrender one’s sense of time, and ebb and flow with the music’s pure emotion as Meyers and Eguchi swayed with its strains like a pair of synchronized swimmers.
I’d heard Pärt’s “Fratres” only in its original orchestral version. A violin-and-piano iteration proved transporting, beautiful and ruminative. Meyers’s technique on the arpeggio passages and whistling tone on the high harmonics were marvels. Yet somehow Pärt’s writing rubs out any sense of showiness, instead wrapping the listener in a low-key tension that Meyers and Eguchi sustained masterfully.
At the easy-listening end of the spectrum were a transcription of Lauridsen’s popular choral work “O Magnum Mysterium” and an encore of John Corigliano’s “Lullaby for Natalie,” written for Meyers’s daughter. With its commissions and personal dedications, the concert felt like a family affair as well as a musical celebration. Both musicians are at the tops of their games.