VIAF 2014

Two rousing performances … at St Francis Church and the Bishop’s Palace in Victoria …

We all know that the secret of a brilliant performance is making it sound and look easy, but we all thought there are limits to this. However, limitless it was on Monday 16th, for the audience witnessed a virtuoso display by violinist Andrea Gajic and accordionist Djordje Gajic beyond wild imaginings. The duo performed to a packed St Francis Church in Victoria – a concert that attested to the duo’s brilliant technical abilities and wonderful interpretation of works by Pärt, Ysaÿe, Bach, Brahms, Paganini, Massenet, Sarasate and Bazzini.

A quiet yet assertive mood was created with Arvo Pärt’s haunting Fratres. Structurally, this work consists of a set of eight or nine chord sequences, separated by a recurring percussive motif, this evening provided by the accordion. The chord sequences themselves follow a clear pattern, and while the progressing chords explore a rich harmonic space, they nevertheless appear to have been generated by means of a simple formula. There was exquisite balance maintained between the dark tones tones of the violin, the scoring for which was largely in the lower register using the G string on many occasions, and the melancholic colour of the accordion. Moving on to Ysaÿe’s last Sonata in a series of Six, each of them named after a great violinist, Andrea showed her undoubted mastery in this one-movement work. Dedicated to the Spanish virtuoso Manuel Quiroga, the first part of the work, which suggests what is to come, includes a great deal of virtuoso writing in what is by no means the least technically demanding of the sonatas. It is in the second part of the work, marked Allegretto poco scherzando, that Spanish rhythms and turns of phrase become evident, leading to a final flourish of virtuosity. These were tackled with panache, aplomb and ease by the violinist.

Djordje is an equally virtuosic player and this came out in full brilliance with his rendition of the very well-known Bach work that followed on the programme, namely, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV565. Despite the fact that this work has been heard a hyperbolic million times, on various instruments (apart from the original organ) and in various styles, Djordje performance made it sound new, fresh and vibrant as it ever can be. The swelling sonorities of the instrument were almost akin to that of an organ and his dexterous finger-work was clear, articulate and beautifully managed.

In Brahms’s Hungarian Dances (1 and 2) the audience was regaled with two short pieces works that focus largely on folk/dance music while the following piece, namely, Paganini’s delicate yet devilishly difficult Campanella, the violin shot to unparalleled heights in terms of technical prowess and dynamic control. This was followed by a totally contrasting work, that of Massenet’s again well-known Meditation from his opera Thaïs. Fully showing that her musical abilities do not only include technical bravura, Andrea here demonstrated her profound sense of emotional appreciation of a work that is renowned for its utterly beautiful melody, sweeping phrases and melismatic writing. With its long-breathed ethereal melody, its iridescent harmonies, its evanescent rhythm, and its incandescent climax this was one piece to remember.

A completely different kettle of fish was Sarasate’s notoriously difficult Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Tunes). Structured in the form of a mini-concerto, with a sober majestic introduction pursued by virtuosic writing of the first order, the duo performed this work to perfection. Despite the heat, Andrea seemed to have found little difficulty in producing acutely sensitive harmonics which barely ever lacked either pitch or sonority.

The final work on the programme was one that is not performed regularly and, after listening to it, one could see why.  Bazzini’s Dance of the Goblins is as impish as it can get. Subtitled Scherzo fantastique, it stretches the finger power of the violinist to an impossible limit. Ricochet bowings, frantic double-stop tremolos, wild leaping from string to string while reiterating the same note, and, of course, replete with harmonics fill the pages, all following a clean, compact, and charmingly mischievous rondo plan. This is a tour-de-force for the violin virtuoso and that’s the way it came across.

The audience all but leapt to its feet at the end of what was a consummate performance, nothing short of perfection. As if that were not enough, the duo gave us a rousing rendition of the popular Czardas by Vittorio Monti.

This performance was characterized throughout by passion, brilliance and supreme intelligence!

A further performance, on Tuesday 17th, this time by virtuoso accordionist Djordje Gajic, took place this evening in the stately hall at the Bishop’s Palace in Victoria.  H.L. Bishop Mario Grech kindly offered the venue for our concert in appreciation of the high-quality concerts that VIAF offers to its patrons. The organizers are deeply grateful for this.

This concert manifested virtuosic playing at its most dazzling and finest. Captivating an sizeable audience for a whole hour of solo playing is no mean joke but the sky is the limit for fantastic musicians and Djordje is one of them. Starting his recital with two delectable Scarlatti Sonatas, which were characterized by poise, elegance and clarity, the second work on the programme was a five-movement Suite specifically written for the accordion by Russian composer Vladislav Zolotaryov. Consisting of five miniatures, this work attested to the composer’s affinity with the accordion in that it explored the whole tonal and dynamic range and technical difficulties that one encounters in playing it. Djordje sailed through the work with a flourish, almost undermining the fact that it was a devilishly difficult work to play.

In Albéniz and Villa-Lobos we were thrust into the sultry rhythms and melodic intensity of Spanish and Brazilian music respectively. Djordje performed Asturias and Cordoba by Albéniz, two pieces that form part of the wonderful Cantos de España. Originally written for the guitar, one wondered how these two works could be reproduced on the accordion … but they were, and how. Asserting himself with confidence and ease, Asturias, which is one of the best-loved pieces in this five-piece set, came across with its rich harmonic vocabulary, rhythmic complexity, extensive dynamic range, and the ambitiousness of its architectural design. It is a haunting, sultry piece, replete with the pathos, passion and exuberance one associates with the Spanish spirit. The fourth movement, Cordoba, is one of the composer’s most famous pieces, a majestic portrait of the city in the form of an Andalusian dance. The performance left nothing to chance and all the vibrancy and dynamic power were in evidence throughout.

Villa-Lobos was represented by The Dance of the White Indian, the fourth and last piece of Ciclo Brasileiro. Demonic and tender, explosive and quiet, it encapsulates the whole dynamic gamut and once again, with fleeting finger-work that was more than dazzling, Djordje enchanted the audience with both the emotional ferocity with which he endowed his performance and the intellectual understanding of the piece.

Russian composer Albin Repnikov’s music for accordion stands in the vanguard of contemporary music for accordion. Requiring a superb if not outstanding technique, the Capriccio performed this evening is a showcase of musical glamour, replete with dazzling cadences and brilliant chords.  This, however, does not in any way jeopardize the beauty of the melody, which betrays its East European latent power and glorious nostalgia.  On the other hand, Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueñia alternates between the fast and the slow, the extravagant and the humble, the volatile and the tender. All these emotions were clearly articulated in the wide register that this piece employs and it was so enriching to hear the fine nuances and multiple shades of colour that Djordje Gajic managed to tease out of the accordion.

The final piece on the programme was none other than a transcription, made by Djordje himself, of one of Rossini’s best-known and best-loved arias, namely, the Cavatina from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, better known as Figaro’s Largo al factotum. All baritones know that this is one aria that makes or breaks a performance (and a performer!), with its running melismas and tongue-twisting diction. Flitting across the keyboard like a bird it did make the old adage seem true, namely, that fingers do fly! So they seemed to glide across the instrument with extreme agility, elegance and impeccable precision. The ending of the piece, and of the concert, was greeted with a thunderous applause from a truly appreciative audience.

These were two concerts that firmly sustained the high profile and sound reputation that our Festival enjoys!