Faust and Melnikov bring close rapport, top artistry to Beethoven at Mandel Hall

Chicago Classical Review

Programs devoted to a single composer are increasingly rare in chamber and instrumental concerts. Most presenters apparently think, why make the tough sell of classical recitals even harder?

Credit the University of Chicago Presents series then with offering a meat-and-potatoes Beethoven program with Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov. The German violinist and Russian pianist have been recital partners for 15 years, and have recorded much of the major repertoire, including the complete Beethoven violin sonatas. That close musical rapport was consistently manifest in their performances of three Beethoven sonatas Friday night at Mandel Hall.

The evening opened with the Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23. Faust’s violin timbre is slender with a slight astringent edge, which suited the restless opening Presto. Yet one was always conscious of the preceding Classical era with a grazioso quality evident as well. The two musicians brought out the quirky charm and antic humor of the middle movement–undisturbed by a ringing cell phone–and threw off the hard-charging finale with remarkable unanimity and accuracy at a blistering tempo.

The “Spring” sonata (No. 5 in F major, Op. 24) is a much more lyrical work. That easy-going charm was conveyed in Faust’s elegant rendering of the long opening theme and Melnikov’s sensitive, rippling keyboard work, with both players encompassing the contrasts and stormy passages as well.  Throughout the evening, one was struck by the almost symbiotic musical partnership between the artists, each exactly echoing each other’s surges, accents and hairpin dynamic turns even at uncommonly fast tempos.

It’s also a testament to their concentration that they were unfazed by the same ringing phone that broke in on their rapt playing of the Adagio, with Faust’s seamless line beautifully supported by Melnikov’s pointillist keyboard.

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