VIAF 2014

Daniel Veis and Helena Veisová .. it doesn’t get much better!

On Monday evening, Daniel Veis and Helena Veisová enthused a very appreciative audience with a wonderful performance of works by Schumann, Brahms and Saint-Saëns. This is the Duo’s eighth consecutive performance in the Victoria International Arts Festival and it is readily agreed by both the organizers and the audience that the presence of artistes of the stature of Daniel and Helena more than enhances the profile of our Festival. There is a certain gravitas that such performers bring with them that takes performing to an entirely new level.

Starting with Schumann’s lovely Adagio and Allegretto op. 70, typically, Schumann endows his works by a sublime sonority that enables the instrument to speak intimately to the audience. Daniel manages to bring out a truly wonderful sound from his Guadagnini cello (Milano 1754) and this, together with a glorious passion, endows his performance with an electrifying quality that is quite unique. He has more than a steady and formidable accompanist in his wife Helena and together they reach peaks of beauty that is both humbling and exhilarating.

Brahms Sonata in D Major op. 70 (originally written for violin) is typically a work that is rich, sensuous and profound. It is a gloriously lyrical work with long-breathed melodies rather than terse themes, and expansive extrapolations rather than concise developments. It is also one of Brahms’ most tightly structured and cogently argued works, with a degree of formal integration rare in his works. In the evening’s performance, scrupulous attention to rhythmic detail and sonority were the hallmarks. The dotted rhythm of the opening movement’s first theme dominated the second theme of the central movement and all of the closing movement, and the second theme of the central movement returned in the central section of the closing movement. The Sonata is in three movements: Vivace ma non troppoAdagio, and Allegro molto moderato. The opening Vivace, significantly slowed by its modifying ma non troppo, is a sweet-tempered movement in sonata form with two lyrical themes.  The central Adagio is in ternary form, with a heartfelt main theme full of full-bodied double and triple stops in the violoncello. The closing Allegro molto moderato starts with a direct quotation from the opening of Brahms’ Regenlied, Op. 59/3 (Rain Song), a melancholy minor-keyed song recalling the long-lost days of youth. In this Sonata, Brahms likewise starts it in the minor, but with the return of the theme of the Adagio, he returns the music to the consoling tonic major of the Sonata. The work ends with a warm, sunset coda of great beauty. The performance was a truly beautiful one!

The last work on the programme was Saint-Saëns’ Sonata in C Minor op. 32. Built on a massive architectonic structure, this work is a very difficult one that embraces the essentially French qualities of elegance, refinement and passion. A rising and falling third, quintessential gesture of despair looms over the first movement, an Allegro, relentlessly recurring in its original form and occasionally transforming into an even more strident tritone. The startling conclusion of the movement, however, relies on the raw physicality of heavy-handed bow-strokes in the violoncello’s lower range, something that Daniel accomplished with consummate mastery. This sets up a bittersweet contrast with the delicately sunny opening of the second movement cast in major mode and marked Andante tranquillo sostenuto. The movement, which borrows some of its melodic material from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, occasionally turns pensive, particularly in those passages where shades of the minor mode return and the nimble accompaniment softens into drawn-out chords. At the end of the movement, the Duo drew listeners in to hear the faint patter of the piano and pizzicato cello, adding subtle but poignant warmth to the cello’s final bowed note. The sense of fond reminiscence that marked the second movement was overshadowed by the turbulence of the finale. The busy virtuosity that lent the movement its urgency also provided the fluid undercurrent in more restrained moments, the piano’s busy figurations melting into a mottled background for long-breathed melodies in the violoncello. As the movement approached its close, however, this lyricism stiffened and became emboldened, until a frenzied, rising chromatic line led to the work’s final catharsis.

The audience all but leapt out of their seats at the end of what was one of the more high-profile performances of the Festival. As always, this was a performance those who were privileged to listen to it are not likely to forget! It is always such a privilege to host the Duo!