Thursday, November 7, 2019

concert review: Bomsori Kim and Juho Pohjonen

Two violin and piano recitals within a week? Usually I go for bigger chamber ensembles than that. But this one was the SF Performances Gift Concert, an annual treat put on for donors and subscribers. They're worth going to because the performers are usually outstanding.

This was the first I'd heard of Bomsori Kim - indeed, this was her SF debut - but Juho Pohjonen is a familiar name from the Menlo festival. Kim, playing a late 18C violin, had a particularly smooth and enrapturing tone, moderately dark and heavy, but not overly so. I could listen to a great deal of it.

This concert included - not in performing order - two full sonatas: a dark and brooding late-period one from Schumann (Op. 105 in A minor) and a light and chipper one from Prokofiev (his Second). The Schumann extremely emphasized the violin over the piano, perhaps odd considering that the composer was a pianist, albeit long retired when he wrote this.

Plus: a few wetly soppy salon pieces by - of all people - Sibelius, and some grittier and more interesting (pianistically as well as violinistically) salon pieces by Szymanowski. And a showpiece: a fantasy on themes from Carmen compiled by Franz Waxman for his buddy Jascha Heifetz. About 3/4 Carmen to 1/4 ornament, the ornaments often including running one's finger up the string to the highest position and playing the resulting squeak.

Bizarrely, the Sibelius salon pieces were written during WW1. They don't sound like it. The Szymanowski pieces likewise, but more plausibly. They both had quiet wars, Szymanowski on his family estate in what's now western Ukraine, or at least quiet until the Bolsheviks burned the house and threw Szymanowski's piano in the lake. And Prokofiev's was written during WW2.

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