Review: Beilman & Tyson (Musica Viva)

By Angus McPherson
October 10, 2016

★★★★½ Violinist and pianist deliver robust performances in which neither voice is subordinate.

With the Steinway at full stick, pianist Andrew Tyson wasn’t shy about unleashing its power as he and violinist Benjamin Beilman launched into Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No 35, K526. Beilman’s full-throated sound cut through, though, the violinist easily meeting the precision Mozart demands with an effortless crispness in the fifth concert of the pair’s national tour for Musica Viva.

Given just as much weight as the violin, the piano part of Mozart’s K526 is stunningly virtuosic – the sonata a perfect choice as chamber music for two such vibrant musical personalities and a brilliant start to a thrilling concert of friendly sparring between the players. Large sections of the Andante are voiced as a trio, Beilman running parallel to Tyson’s left-hand and accompanying the melody in his right. Tyson unleashed steady streams of notes in the Presto– Beilman again playing second fiddle to the pianist for large sections – the pair joining fluently at the cadences. While Tyson’s sound threatened to overwhelm at times, this only added to the excitement of a robust performance.

From Beilman’s biting first note in the Janáček Violin Sonata, composed against the backdrop of the First World War, the colour of the concert changed completely. The violinist inflected Tyson’s rolled chords with pizzicato highlights, the players spitting fragments of melody and roiling tremolos before Beilman’s lyrical lines soared above the thick piano textures, his sound blazing across the concert hall. The Ballade of the second movement saw Beilman showcasing the warmth and depth of his high register, the embers of the last note dying away before the duo launched into the aggressive trills and accents of the Allegretto. Beilman’s bow bounced on the strings, producing skittering flurries of notes while Tyson’s tremolos roiled underneath. Barbed violin figures interrupted the more lyrical melodies in the Adagio finale, Beilman’s violin shining once more against the piano, the player pushing his instrument to the limit, displaying a huge dynamic range and with less concern for the niceties cultivated in the Mozart. Despite the fury, though, the end of the sonata petered out into nothingness.

Tyson introduced Jane Stanley’s new Cerulean Orbits – commissioned under the auspices of Musica Viva’s Hildegard Project in support of women in composition – as “tailor-made for us”, the composer having workshopped the piece with the duo in the UK. Based on pitch-centres around which the players circled and orbited like satellites, Cerulean Orbits saw shivering, sustained violin pitches bend and refract over spatters of glistening piano. With timbres reminiscent of the Spectralism of the 1970s, trills and tremolos seemed to draw a line from the Janáček. There was a constant sense of drifting motion, flickers of light emanating from the piano and an increasing intensity that built to a disturbing, jagged climax, after which – according to Tyson – the score is marked “like background radiation” the work settling on a haunting, held violin note.

Following the drama of the earlier works, Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata felt over-sweet, but the chamber playing of Beilman and Tyson was nonetheless flawless as they revelled in the swinging opening and delicate colours. Beilman dispatched runs with easy virtuosity, Tyson’s hands jumping clawlike off the keys as they pushed against each other. The dancing lilt of the second movement erupted into a final display of virtuosic pyrotechnics and perfectly synchronised runs. The pair capped off the concert with Fritz Kreisler’s Tambourin Chinois, Beilman racing up into the violin’s stratosphere before sliding down into the gritty folk-rhythms.

Beilman & Tyson is chamber music at its finest: two soloists with unique personalities coming together in performances in which neither voice is subordinate to the other. And yet despite the vibrant strength of each of their musical personalities, the pair play with remarkable synchronicity, joining together to create a vivid and musically exciting performance.

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