A Heifetzian Triumph

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From the faultless articulation in Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major to the bravura of Ginastera’s Pampeana No. 1, Qian Zhou‘s violin recital with Bernard Lanskey played to an unusually full house at the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory Concert Hall on the 25thof August 2013.

The recital was originally scheduled for the 5th of February but had to be postponed due to an arm injury sustained by Zhou. However, there was no trace of her earlier misfortune when Zhou effortlessly showcased her technical command and musical sensibility.

Zhou’s artistry was apparent from the opening piece – Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major. As Prof Lanskey’s programme notes aptly describe, it is an “uncommonly intimate and pastoral” piece, a far cry from the stormy, heroic Fifth Symphony written just two years later. Zhou’s masterfully nuanced phrasing highlighted the graceful tranquillity of the piece. Especially noteworthy was her handling of the triple and quadruple-stoppings in the fourth variation of the third movement – clean, crisp and resonant.

Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, attested to Zhou’s versatility as she appeared to be perfectly at home with the French master’s final composition. Phrase after phrase of nuanced colourations, daring pizzicati [a technique where the strings of the instrument are plucked] and shimmering harmonics mesmerised audiences like an “opulent dream-like collage”.

After an impassioned reading of Ysaÿe’s Poème élégiaque, which showcased Zhou’s broad palette of tonal colours, the ten-minute interval was abuzz with vexed discussions over the incessant intrusion of camera shutters during the performance. One does wonder if there was a need for a third accompanying voice to Associate Professor Zhou and Professor Lanskey’s already captivating performance.

Thankfully, the shutter clicks were silenced after the interval and Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major could be appreciated in aural peace, as the composer must have intended when he wrote it in the rejuvenating happiness of Thun, Switzerland. The “sunny, intimate” piece exudes a honeyed lyricism, delightfully conveyed by Zhou’s sonorous “whole bows”. [Ed: A whole bow is when a violinist uses the full length of the bow.] Coupled with an intense yet studied vibrato, Zhou sculpted the lyrical contours of the Sonata’s elegant phrases with a steady hand while simultaneously bringing to life the exuberant joy inherent in the piece with a masculinity of tone so assertive and assured that one is reminded of Heifetz. [Ed: Jascha Heifetz was a pre-eminent violinist in the 1920s-1940s.]

Closing the recital with Ginastera’s Pampeana No.1, Zhou’s blazing virtuosity dazzled to no end. A lesser-known work of a lesser-known composer, Pampeana is truly a “violinistic tour de force”, featuring technical feats reminiscent of Paganini. [Ed: Niccolò Paganini is another celebrated violinist and composer who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.] Nonetheless, Zhou again proved to be the master of her instrument as she exerted full control over passage after passage of fiendish difficulty, bringing the house down like Heifetz did on the 27th of October 1917, when he debuted at Carnegie Hall to rapturous acclaim.


Edited by Samantha Wong