VIAF 2015

A dazzling performance by saxophonist Philip Attard and pianist Christine Zerafa

Gozitan Saxophonist Philip Attard, together with Maltese pianist Christine Zerafa gave a dazzling performance yesterday evening. Much was anticipated, given the reputation these very young performances are carving for themselves in nowhere less auspicious that London – the cultural heart of heart of venues in Europe if not the world – and they certainly did not let us down.

Establishing an extraordinary understanding, on both an intellectual and emotional level in their reading of wonderful scores, the Attard-Zerafa Duo, as they are known, could not have provided more high-powered ‘entertainment’ to the audience that thronged Mgr G. Farrugia Hall. Patrons turned out in force and they left on a high!

Starting with the simply wonderful Franck Sonata in A Major, originally intended for the violoncello but ultimately written for the violin, this work has seen a few transcriptions in its life not least because everyone wants to play it. It is beautiful, haunting and evocative and is a musical and technical challenge for any performer. Philip and Christine rose easily to the occasion and their rendition was nothing short of riveting. Playing from memory, Philip grew in stature as the piece unravelled in its mesmerizing cyclic form and in Christine he could not have found a better accompanist. Formidable technician that she is, she is also profoundly musical and her sensitivity never faltered. Whether in an ‘accompanying’ role or else coming out in her own right, she is a benchmark for the accompanist’s role that one tends so easily to underestimate.

Philip’s control over the saxophone (he played the Alto saxophone throughout the chosen programme) is masterful, to say the least. He showed promise from day one, when still a very young student at the Gozo School of Music and any teacher with vision could see that the ‘child’ had potential. Together with his undoubted talent there is a total commitment to his art and this alliance (talent and hard work) is quite unbeatable. The execution of the Franck Sonata, which sounds new with every hearing, was characterized by intensity, a wide dynamic dimension to include a wondrous Recitativo – Fantasia, and a generous tonal beauty. Throughout the various editions of VIAF it is so such a privilege to have heard this gorgeous work twice in its original version for violin and pianoforte (Marcello Canci, Philip Bride), once in its violoncello version by none other than top cellist Daniel Veis, and this evening’s performance. Beauty never stales …

The next item on the programme was Hindemith’s Sonata for Saxophone and Pianoforte which, incidentally, it not a transcription but an original work although there is also a version for Horn. By now it was well accepted beyond any shred of doubt that the Duo was only getting better as the programme rolled on, and one other aspect of their intelligent playing was their conscious adherence to formal structures, such as Hindemith work would ask for. Against rippling and all but demented racing figures on the pianoforte, a saxophone plaintive melody ran counter-intuitively, never in opposition but moving in simultaneous harmony; never aiming for supremacy but showing the world that the boisterous and the serene can actually co-exist.

The final work on the programme was yet another original work for saxophone and pianoforte, this time by prominent Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, namely, his three-movement Fuzzy Bird Sonata. While this is undeniably a showpiece work, there is an underlying emotional resonance to it, as the young musicians explained to the audience. The composer embarked on his ‘Bird’ series works after his sister, who lay dying of a terminal illness, imagined herself reincarnated as a bird.  Scanning the whole spectrum of the saxophone – and here it is unbelievable that an instrument that has ‘just’ 2.5 octaves actually sounded as wide as a much bigger instrument – Philip demonstrated his technical ability at dealing with the more serious demands of his art, while Christine seemed to float naturally through what are surely devilishly difficult passages.

A wonderful performance indeed, that showed the mettle of two very young performers who are still at the start of what we augur and hope will be an auspicious and successful career. If this is the level they have got to at such a young age, one can only wonder what the pinnacle of their efforts would be like!!

Well done and thank you!