Classical Reissue Reviews

Nadia Reisenberg & Erick Friedman: In Perf. & Conversation = Works of BRAHMS, R. STRAUSS, TCHEREPNIN & BEETHOVEN + commentary from “The Listening Room,” WQXR – Romeo Records (2 CDs)

From the recital season of 1977, violinist Erick Friedman and pianist Nadia Reisenberg collaborate in marvelous duo-partnership, happily restored to us through the efforts of Robert Sherman.

Published on October 17, 2013

Nadia Reisenberg & Erick Friedman: In Perf. & Conversation = Works of BRAHMS, R. STRAUSS, TCHEREPNIN & BEETHOVEN + commentary from “The Listening Room,” WQXR – Romeo Records (2 CDs)

Nadia Reisenberg & Erick Friedman: In Perf. & Conversation = BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108; R. STRAUSS: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18; TCHEREPNIN: Elegy for Violin and Piano; BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”; Excerpts and commentary from “The Listening Room,” WQXR-FM – Romeo Records 7295/6 (2 CDs), 54:10, 78:54 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

When asked about her professional relationship with violinist Erick Freidman (1939-2004) – which began in 1997 – pianist Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983) commented that “We’ve had a wonderful association. Erick is an especially flexible artist. We love trading ideas at rehearsal, and he takes precisely the same joy in chamber music that I do.”  Romeo Records here issues the complete concert of 11 October 1977 from the Kaufmann Auditorium at the Ninety-Second Street Y, New York City.

I had the good fortune to meet Erick Freidman and attend both his master class and (Mozart) concert at the Round Top Festival, Texas, courtesy of Festival Director, pianist James Dick. I found Erick to be a humble, patient teacher and conscientious artist, very much aware of the great tradition he bore through his various teachers – like Ivan Galamian –  especially through his tutelage with Jascha Heifetz. These performances of Strauss, Brahms, and Beethoven with veteran Nadia Reisenberg bespeak a thorough familiarity of style from both artists, who blend beautifully without any impulse to grand or rhetorical gestures. For the Brahms D Minor Sonata, we have the benefit of having the Heifetz performance (with William Kapell) as a direct point of comparison. The Friedman/Reisenberg collaboration projects the same relentless passion and fixed intensity, but the sense of underlying restraint never abandons the architectural heat of the moment. Listen to the onrushes of Friedman’s attacks in the Presto Agitato, tempered by his applied rubato as he rebuilds to a later fiery climax.  The brilliant glove that constitutes Reisenberg’s keyboard part misses not a beat as she leads or follows the ensuing musical lines.

The Richard Strauss Sonata in E-flat Major (1888) serves as a “symphonic” vehicle for both participants, the piano part having been compared to a Liszt concerto, and the violin part to a full body of strings. The result can prove stentorian, bombastic, and unconvincing in the wrong hands. The opening movement rush of sixteenth notes and triplets – a typical Strauss formula – finds a noble restraint in these performers, who manage to keep the music exciting, brilliant, and civilized, at once.  The huge gestures, especially as the secondary theme climbs over two octaves – and the rich third theme marked appassionato –  permit Friedman his most histrionic moments, at least until the upward rockets of the Allegro in the final movement. Strauss had published the second movement Improvisation (marked Allegro cantabile) separately, its having been composed after the outer movements. Friedman sings most eloquently in traditional ternary form, the music’s quoting both Schubert’s Erlkoenig and Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata in the course of its song-without-words musings. Reisenberg has her own bravura effects in the scintillating sixty-fourth arpeggios she executes in the central section. Her quick figures make us lament that we have no document of Reisenberg in the Strauss Burleske.  The last movement indulges in muscular heroic gestures we know from his symphonic poem Don Juan, composed contemporaneously with the Sonata. Freidman’s waxes eloquent and skittish, alternately, then basking in one of those ardent melodies that places Strauss in the pantheon with idols Schumann and Brahms. At the coda, the Y audience bursts into feverish applause.

As a preface to the performance of the Elegy (1929) by Alexander Tcherepnin, Friedman dedicates the piece to the composer’s passing, a piece “more of pain than of beauty. . .followed by no applause.” The high harmonics of the violin cast an eerie glow while the piano plumbs turbulent depths. Trills and a rasping violin tone from Friedman add to the anguish, chromatic certainly, but then easing into a melancholy mist that fades away, a modal whimper. The Beethoven 1803 Kreutzer Sonata completes the Y recital, and a mighty experience it proves to be. Friedman and Reisenberg account for its visceral poise and slashing power, emphasizing the rising half-step that propels the music forward on a colossal scale. The occasional finger-slip (also heard in the Brahms D Minor studio performance) detracts not a whit from the quasi concerto impetus of the whole. The elegant Andante con variazioni provides splendid rest from the almost convulsive opening movement. A single A Major chord, and the Presto finale scampers forth, a ferocious tarantella.  As one commentator notes, with this monumental work, Beethoven cast formerly “salon” music into the public forum, chamber music with a vengeance!

“The Listening Room” broadcast on WQXR-FM (27 September 1977) antedates the October 11 recital, featuring host Robert Sherman (Nadia Reisenberg’s son), who introduces a virtually “new” sonata-team. Friedman notes that “the violinist must play like a pianist and the violinist like a pianist in order for there to be a successful sonata-team.” He then speaks of articulation and intonation of the passages as the factors that must inspire each other. Reisenberg offers her legato as an analogue to the bowing of the violin. She adds that an experienced musician can predict the decisions of the other, no matter how new they are to each other. And each, Friedman and Reisenberg, protests that the composer’s indications and intentions must come first.

Reisenberg and Freidman proceed to play the first two movements of the Strauss in the studio; and even without an audience present, the acoustical and sonorous beauty of their two instruments does not make this passionate rendition superfluous. The facility of execution and fast vibrato from Friedman quickly recall the Heifetz model for us. Sherman nominates the second movement as among the most beautiful music in the world. Friedman proffers rhythm, pulse, and line as the most crucial elements in making music, and Reisenberg concurs. The momentum of the last movement of the Brahms D Minor Sonata threatens the walls of studio, music both aggressive and fiercely interior.

—Gary Lemco

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