Caroline Goulding and Michael Brown Wake Up Lincoln Center
Did violinist Caroline Goulding and pianist Michael Brown stay up all night before their concert at Lincoln Center on Sunday? They played as if they had, and during the latter part of the performance, as if it was still Halloween. Goulding told the late-morning crowd that an intricate Bach sonata and a shattering one by Bartok were the ideal way to start a Sunday, and from how vividly and passionately she and Brown tackled those pieces, she may not have been kidding. Both musicians are rising stars, have victories in major competitions and a conversational repartee in concert: they make a good team.
Bach was busy in his years in Leipzig, Germany; along with running a demanding church music program, he also booked a venue, not to mention writing and performing at the weekly program there. His Sonata No. 3 in E, BVW 1016 dates from that fertile period. At this point in history, for a composer to engage both performers in a duo piece is expected, but that wasn’t the case in Bach’s time. If liberating the piano from the role of playing rhythm for a lead instrument wasn’t actually a Bach invention, it was definitely an innovation. With this particular piece, he hides a lament in the middle of artfully interwoven, upbeat concert music. The duo brought a sense of suspense to the pensive opening, Brown animating the second movement with a marvelous light staccato touch, as if to say, “In case you’re wondering, this was written for harpsichord.” Sometimes this work calls for role reversals, poignancy from the piano and atmosphere from the violin; both musicians remained closely attuned to those demands through slow, expressive middle passages and then a triumphant waltz out.
The piece de resistance was Bartok’s Sonata No. 1 for Piano and Violin. On one hand, this 1921 work, with its modernist tonalities, proto gypsy-rock and minimalist passages, is completely in the here and now. On the other, it captures its era, the composer and most of Europe still piecing themselves back together in the aftershock of World War I and much that preceded it. From Brown’s first creepy, upwardly cascading motif, there was no doubt that the pyrotechnics afterward would be harrowing. The two performers went deep into it for a rendition that was both horror-stricken and elegaic. Brown’s alternately moody reflecting-pool sostenuto and menacing, low lefthand slasher chords anchored Goulding’s elegantly anxious, sky-searching washes of sound that contrasted later with gnashing, rapidfire cadenzas. The two worked a cinematic exchange of voices through variations on a muted, funereal bell tone from the depths of the piano; a bit later, Goulding hit an imploring, pedaled motif where it looked like her hand was going to cramp up as it stretched up the fingerboard, or that she was about to break her bow.
The final movement began with a fiery Romany dance twisted cruelly out of shape, more maimed than threatening – a metaphor for what happened to Bartok’s home turf? Brown’s Hungarian stalker boogie held the violin’s danse macabre to the ground, shifting to ancient, otherworldly ancient folk harmonies, to an anguished bustle out. The duo encored with a handful of Bartok’s Hungarian Dances, Goulding delivering the second with legato high harmonics so silken it was as if she was playing a theremin. In a morning full of dazzling displays of technique, this was the most stunning, justifying the price of admission all by itself.
Who was in the crowd at this hour? Retirees from the neighborhood, for the most part, although there was a noticeably younger contingent as well. Not only are these morning concerts at the Walter Reade Theatre a bargain at $20, they also come with a coffee reception with the artists afterward. And you can choose your seat at the box office. While there were plenty of concertgoers at the ticket window beforehand, many more had already reserved theirs, which seems the safer option considering that by the time the show started, the theatre appeared to be sold out. The next one of these is at 10:30 AM on December 15 with pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung playing Stravinsky’s Petrouschka plus works by Astor Piazzolla.
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