Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fried and Biss, Violin and Piano, Mother and Son

Violinist Miriam Fried and her son Jonathan Biss 
were presented by the 92nd Street Y as a part of its Distinguished Artists in Recital series last Saturday November 2nd, offering a lovely program of four marvelous sonatas. My response to what began in this duo’s foolhardy opening choice with Leos Janacek’s terse, challenging Sonata (carelessly described by the NY Times as “delightful”) quickly evolved from stunned to baffled, settling on detestation.

The violinist was clearly audible in exactly three places this evening; the opening of the Janacek, and in the opening bar of the first movement and the little cadenza in the final movement of Beethoven’s last violin sonata. These are the moments when the piano doesn’t play.
Here she demonstrated three modes of a garbage disposal: mechanically sputtering, operational and choked. With a tone akin to tarnished silver, her sonic profile could have been enhanced by more metal, more discoloration. Well matched in dullness was her pianist, ruinous to the evening; so leaden, ham-handed, caked in cacophony, with textures black and steaming; he utterly swamped his partner. His inability to play softer then a mezzo forte perhaps suits his solo career better.

It was a marvel to behold Mr. Biss' statement of the theme in the Adagio Espressivo of the Beethoven Op. 96 where he accented the second and fourth of the sixteenth notes and not the melody. He seemed to make the time go turgidly into seven. If Ms. Fried had been matched with a more musical piano player, it is uncertain whether the performance could have shown more then these precious few human qualities: driving, hammered, knuckled, bitten.

The discomfort of certain audience members in a smallish house of devoted music lovers was painfully clear at times. Ms. Fried is a hugely sought after pedagogue with top-drawer students that mop up prizes at international competitions. An acquaintance in attendance, a young violin student geared to make his way into her studio, changed his mind after what he heard. Ms. Fried established her career by winning the Queen Elizabeth competition at a time when competitions meant something – so she must have been a great player.

And, the other sonatas were the Schumann D minor, hard, edgy; and Beethoven’s A minor Op. 23, passed through like an intersection.

~ CrackCritic

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