Tuesday night at the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival got off to a bold start when pianist Andrew von Oeyen, violinist Sarah Chang’s accompanist, took the stage for a solo turn. It was his festival debut.
For Gazette classical music writer Geraldine Freedman's preview of this show, click here.
Von Oeyen, 31, began Ravel’s “Valse Nobles et Sentimentales” in a splashy and vibrant way. Endowed with an easy and effortless technique, he easily navigated the numerous virtuosic demands and paced himself through all the many shifting moods. He chose to smudge his sound, almost at the sake of technical clarity, but he built his climaxes well and overall created a dreamy atmosphere.
Von Oeyen has a substantial solo career, but his real talent showed in the next piece, Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor with violinist Chantal Juillet, violist Choong-Jin Chang and cellist Efe Baltacigil. His sense of ensemble coupled with his forceful playing propelled the group, which needed no encouragement to play with passion and fire. It was one of the most magical performances.
The blend of the four instruments was exceptional. Everyone listened passing melodic motifs around, sharing nuances and strong inflections. Tempos were good; everything flowed.
But the large crowd was waiting for Chang. It’s been four years since she’s appeared at SPAC, and in that time her playing has only matured. The duo performed Franck’s romantic and virtuosic Violin Sonata in A Major.
Dressed in a black and white glittery gown by Pierre Balmain, Chang took charge from the start. Her tone was the tenderest, as if she were singing a beautiful melody from a distance. As the piece developed, she layered the phrases with great subtlety, letting them breathe, hinting at depths yet to plumb. Dynamic levels were extremely varied. At bigger volumes, especially at phrase peaks, she’d arch her back or take a few paces back or forward, completely involved in the music.
She was charming to watch. Her playing dazzled. Every note was in place, every phrase was felt. Faster tempos had fire and her lower notes had a dark lustrous tone.
Von Oeyen matched her note for note, nuance for nuance. He varied his tone and touch to suit the passage and was effortless in the virtuosic part. He was the perfect partner.
The crowd roared its approval and after many curtain calls was rewarded with Edward Elgar’s Salute d’Amour. It was exquisite.
The next festival concert is Monday, and Chang returns on Aug. 18 with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto.