From the very first unison notes of the Schumann Violin Sonata No.1 in A Minor, with which Noa Wildschut and Elisabeth Brauss began their Canberra concert, the audience could sense that this concert would be something very special. And indeed it was.
Though both are still in their twenties and have achieved impressive individual accolades, it is the partnering of Dutch violinist Wildschut and German pianist Brauss that has been hailed as one of the most exciting musical partnerships heard in years.
The program chosen for their first Australian tour was both eclectic and challenging, offering an enticing selection of works by Schumann, Debussy, Enescu and Messiaen, as well as a new work especially composed for the duo by Australian composer, May Lyon.
Looking relaxed, confident and remarkably youthful as they took the stage, Wildschutt and Brauss gracefully acknowledged the welcoming applause before quickly settling at their instruments.
Schumann’s Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor commences with a whisper quiet conversation between the violin and piano. Immediately achieving a perfect balance in sound between the lush warm tone of Wildschut’s 1750 Guadagnini violin and Brauss’s arresting piano phrasing, the two immediately captivated as they launched into the Schumann, quickly losing themselves in the joy of the music.
Apparently oblivious at the inherent technical challenges, each smiled gently at the other’s response to some unexpected nuance of phrasing or simply grooved on the pleasure of sharing what they had discovered with a new audience. It was obvious that they were enjoying making music together.
Messiaen’s Theme et Variations, also commences quietly. Then, after a series of asymmetrical phrases for the violin and fluttering chromatic shifts for the piano, reaches a dramatic peak, ending so softly that the musicians paused after the last note, appearing frozen in time. So much so that no one in the audience dared to applaud until it was clear that both were still breathing. It was a magic moment.
Debussy’s last work, Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor, with its more conventional melodies and harmonies, allowed the duo to demonstrate their technical virtuosity and mastery of this more conventional repertoire without compromising any of their ability to surprise and delight with their relaxed, confident showmanship.
After interval, a complete change of style with a premiere performance of a work specially composed for the duo by Australian composer, May Lyons. Introduced by the composer herself, the work, Forces of Nature is a fiercely impressionistic exploration of the full range of the two instruments to evoke two polar opposites; the summer melt of ice sheets and an erupting volcano.
Watching and listening to Wildschut and Brauss interpret this work was a mesmerising experience. Commencing with the solo violin alternating sliding effects with jagged bowing in an uncanny approximation of melting ice, the piano quietly enters, firstly with single-note dripping sounds, before building with discordant chords to the climatic volcanic eruption, remarkably achieved by the pair with the same confident virtuosity they had displayed throughout.
The final offering was George Enescu’s lush Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano. Infused with Romanian folk music, with a third movement replete with swirling rhythms so intense that violinist Wildschut felt inspired to break into dance in her efforts to express it, this work proved the perfect climax for an outstanding, revelatory concert .
Of course there was a standing ovation, graciously rewarded with a joyous rendition of Paul Schoenfield’s delightful Tin Pan Alley.
Wildschut and Brauss
Llewellyn Hall, William Herbert Place, Canberra.
Performance: Monday 27 November 2023
Image: Noa Wildschut (violin) and Elisabeth Brauss (piano) – photo by Tony McDonough
Review: Bill Stephens OAM