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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON July 31st 2018
Reflections of Wartime through the music of Yehudi Menuhin
Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)
Menuhin wrote, “In every man there is a spark of God”. The spark turned into a blazing fire of love last night as the exquisite pairing of violinist Jonathan Crow and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu presented a program of the music that Menuhin performed in many of his own wartime concerts. Entitled A Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin, the concert interspersed entertaining stories about the violinist between musical selections.
Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)
Phillip Chiu and Jonathan Crow; Photo credit: Catherine Willshire
The program opened with Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in D minor, Op.5 No. 12, “La Folia” (arr. Various). The popular set of variations chosen by Crow and Chiu set the tone of joyful pleasure. After all, it was Menuhin’s purpose to raise the spirits of his wartime audiences. Corelli was the finest violinist of his day, and his music demanded secure technique and beautiful tone, both of which Crow achieved with seeming ease. Chiu added delicate piano colourings in a delightfully romantic interpretation.
Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”, the next work on the program, was written for a young violinist George Bridgewater, a sensation who had recently arrived in Vienna. There is no doubt that in the writing of this passionate masterpiece, Beethoven understood the extraordinary skills of Bridgewater to master the most challenging score. Crow dove into the opening solo with extraordinary passion. With the Presto that followed the introduction, there was foaming energy that didn’t let up. Members of the audience couldn’t hold back applause as the first movement ended. I especially enjoyed the final variation in the second movement with its tonal beauty in both violin and piano. The finale drove forward in a joyful celebratory exuberance. This was a masterful performance.
The concert took a turn following the Beethoven with well-known music by Fritz Kreisler: Liebeslied, Schön Rosmarin and Liebesfreud. Kreisler was yet another violin virtuoso who in the early part of the twentieth century was as successful as any. His short popular pieces such as the three samples in last night’s concert were favourites of Menuhin’s audiences (I’m sure I remember listening to them as a young child on CFRB’s Starlight Serenade, a radio program in the fifties). Once again, Crow and Chiu captured the spirit of these gems.
The final work on the program was Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane. Crow told the story of Menuhin’s trip to Romania with his friend and mentor George Enesco. There, Menuhin became enthralled by a gypsy band. Menuhin’s enchantment with the music gave Crow a great excuse to perform Ravel’s sensational masterpiece with its gypsy flavour. Nothing was held back in this firestorm of a piece.
This was a Reflection of Wartime that highlighted the rare moments of joy. It wasn’t until the encore, Ravel’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, that we were reminded of the other reality.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival concludes on Saturday, August 4 at 7:30pm with a Finale in Walter Hall. There are concerts and special events daily all this week.
Artistic Director and Violinist Jonathan Crow
Yehudi Menuhin knew war from all sides. The foremost violinist of the twentieth century was exempt from military service yet volunteered his talent from the outset of WWII. With his countless concerts for allied troops from the Pacific to North America, Britain and Belgium as well as in displacement camps in Germany at the end of the war, he saw it all and performed for anyone who needed an hour of escape from the mayhem. So it was last night that Toronto Summer Music Festival’s Artistic Director Jonathan Crow used Menuhin’s story and his music to give the sold-out audience at Walter Hall a chance to glance back at WWII.