Benjamin Beillman’s “Spectrum” displays a fine virtuoso talent in a variety of persuasive styles.
Benjamin Beilman – Spectrum = SCHUBERT: Violin Sonata in A Major, D. 574 “Grand Duo”; JANACEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano; STRAVINSKY: Divertimento for V. & P.; KREISLER: Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta – Benjamin Beilman, v./ Yekwon Sunwoo, p. – Warner Classics 0825646008971, 69:28 (3/18/16) ****:
I must confess to finding Mr. Beilman’s recital (rec. 18-21 August 2015) immediately exciting and refreshing, the sound of his incisive 2002 Peter Greiner instrument absolutely ravishing. Mr. Beilman studied with Almita and Roland Vamos at the Music Institute of Chicago, Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy. The recital, obviously chosen to represent Beilman’s ability to accommodate a variety of musical styles, serves him well.
The 1817 Grand Duo of Schubert – which I first heard from a record by Joseph Szigeti and Myra Hess – delights in a lyric urgency that propels the music forward without false sentiment. The Scherzo in E Major reveals a Beethoven touch or two. Especially plaintive, the Andantino flows with noble sympathy between the principals, who attend to Schubert’s idiosyncratic modulations, here, early into D-flat Major. The Allegro vivace enjoys a hearty dance impulse, much of which derives from a florid and happy keyboard part. The harmonic motion around A-E-C exploits tonal and melodic kernels we heard in prior movements. It seems inconceivable that piece had to wait until 1864 to debut.
A seismic shift occurs with the first bars of the Janacek Violin Sonata of 1914-16, an emotionally turbulent piece influenced by WW I and the composer’s infatuations with soprano Gabriela Horvatova and the much younger Kamila Stosslova. Only in 1921 had Janacek become confident enough in the work to allow its premiere. “Steel clashing over my head,” Janacek’s epithet for his attitude at the time, suggests the angular, poignant restlessness of the opening Con moto. The piano part might well invoke images of explosions, physical and emotional. The Ballada invokes a relative moment of peace, a kind of folk lullaby. But here, too, an underlying bitterness resides. Beilman’s melodic line quite soars and then muses over rippling piano filigree. The folk element assumes a decidedly aggressive character in the Allegretto, a fierce movement close to Bartok’s rages. Descending, “exotic” scales and nervous trills and slides mark this agitated outburst. Several commentators compare the jerky violin spasms of the final, somber Adagio to sobs and expressions of personal grief. A haunted resignation infiltrates the music, perhaps more in the keyboard than in Beilman’s agonized fits.
In 1928, Igor Stravinsky paid homage to compatriot Tchaikovsky with Le Baiser de la fee, a collage of pieces originally for piano and voice, now become a ballet for Ida Rubinstein. Already working with violinist Samuel Dushkin on his Violin Concerto, Stravinsky felt that an arrangement for violin and piano of the ballet music would prove effective. Stravinsky’s aesthetic made one demand: none of the pieces had been orchestrated by Tchaikovsky himself. The Sinfonia bursts forth with a wealth of ideas and rhythms, much of which has Beillman in ardent expression. The Danses suisses employs a keyboard Humoresque from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 10 and subjects it to Stravinsky’s especial wit. We can hear moments from Petrushka and L’Histoire du Soldat in passing, all incisive and brilliantly lit by Beilman. The willowy Scherzo might be Stravinsky’s homage to Lautrec as much as to Tchaikovsky. The Pas de deux proffers three sections, of which the opening Adagio projects an improvised character, songlike and airborne, The Variation and Coda perhaps best capture the music’s natural affinity for The Sleeping Beauty ballet. Quick alternations of arco, pizzicato, and double-stopped passagework show off Beilman as no mean virtuoso.
Beilman concludes with music by Dushkin’s own teacher, Fritz Kreisler, whose grand homage to Vienna (1948) literally resurrects the lost world of Richard Tauber. The Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta opens with a brief violin solo, a bit of Bach, Sarasate, and Ravel. When Beilman and Sunwoo harmonize, the effect evokes Vienna schlagobers. Vienna, the City of My Dreams clearly serves the occasion. The ensuing waltz lilts and gallivants in persuasive figures, a most convincing testament to a young violin talent who will likely endear himself to many via this crisp recital, well-recorded by Engineer Antonio Oliart.