A packed hall at Chatswood Concourse welcomed violinist Sophie Rowell and pianist Kristian Chong, who are no strangers to the Sydney Mozart Society.
Sophie won the ABC Young Performers Award in 2000 which gave her the opportunity to play as soloist with the major Australian orchestras. She then founded the Tankstream Quartet which won many overseas prizes before morphing into the Australian String Quartet. She has travelled extensively in Canada as well as Europe playing as principal violin, attending Masterclasses and music festivals. Presently, she is principal violin with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. She plays a 1789 Mantegazza violin.
Kristian Chong studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and the University of Melbourne. He won the Australian Young Performers Award and the Australian National Piano Award and has toured extensively as a soloist and chamber musician alike including performances of Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto in Sydney and his Paganini Rhapsody in Beijing. Somehow, he still has time to teach back in Melbourne.
An interesting program started with Mozart’s Sonata in G for Piano and Violin, K301, which was written at the age of 22 in Mannheim while he was touring with his mother. Unusually, it has two Allegros and no slow movement. This is actually quite refreshing and shows that Mozart was not to be a slave to tradition. The first movement begins with the violin playing a rather naïve theme which is taken over by the piano and developed beautifully by both instruments, before subsiding to a quiet ending. The second Allegro is a Rondo on a peasant-like tune which is treated with characteristic sensitivity and variation shared by each instrument in turn. An accomplished work belying the composer’s age.
Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in A minor op. 23 was written as a companion to his “Spring” sonata and although not as well-known stands on its own merits. A very serious opening develops with quieter spells. The dramatic tone reasserts itself with multiple modulations and the ending is sudden. In the Andante/Allegretto which follows, the composer combines a slow movement with a Scherzo to great effect. A two-note figure, which Beethoven used in the Trio of his opus 31 no. 3 piano sonata, is expanded and develops into a Fugue before descending into a serene ambience. The Allegro is agitated with quieter episodes while long emphatic chords presage the composer’s Kreutzer sonata and yet again, the music fades away to tranquility.
Mozart’s Sonata in B flat K570 for Piano and Violin is an enigma. Supposedly written in 1789, it wasn’t played during his lifetime and has features reminiscent of his well-known C major Sonata K545 in that it doesn’t approach the complexity of its successor in D nor indeed some of its predecessors. It has been proposed that it was written for his pupils to play. That said, it is a beautifully attractive work with counterpoint and episodes of surprise. The opening Allegro is full of arpeggios and modulations with a metronome base and Beethoven appears to have used one figure in his penultimate sonata. The Adagio is very typical of the composer with variations on a bland theme. The finale is a jumpy, jokey Rondo with an ending combining many of the variations. Kristian showed great interpretation without adding the grace notes so often heard in Mozart’s work except for a surprising addition of two chords near the finish.
Saint-Saëns’ first Violin and Piano Sonata in D minor has a similar formula to his well-known Organ Symphony, namely four movements with one central break. The similarity doesn’t end there with the opening theme being tightly chromatic as in the Symphony. In a fashion typical of the composer, the movement proceeds forcefully with changes of key, tempo and consequently mood. A more introspective second subject transcends into the second movement with a catchy dialogue between the instruments prominent. The Scherzo is genuinely beautiful with a perpetuum mobile giving way to a dramatic finale including bell-like passages and giving an invigorating finish.
I thought the programming by the Society was excellent. All four works were unfamiliar yet approachable and I was very grateful to hear a work by Saint-Saëns that I barely knew existed and enjoyed immensely. The playing of the duo was immaculate both in accuracy and feeling. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.