TROY — Prize-winning violinist Tessa Lark took a small crowd on an exploration of folk music Sunday afternoon in her terrific debut recital at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall as part of the Troy Chromatic Concerts series.
Actually, it was a menu of sorts with different flavors provided by composers from Beethoven to Bartok with a stop in Appalachia, because Lark is also a sensational bluegrass fiddler — she’s on her mentor Mark O’Connor’s latest CD “MOC4” (Omc, 2014).
That down-home sensibility and her sparky personality imbued the folk tunes, which had inspired each composer, to flourish.
She and her excellent pianist, Ellen Hwangbo, began with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in G Major. It was crisp, the rhythms and articulations were precise and immaculate, their technical passages had superb clarity and the energy was high. Tempos were lively and the musical phrasing was strong. The finale with its offbeat rhythms was a joyous romp.
Eugene Ysaye was one of the great violin virtuosos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but in 1923 he decided to write a set of solo sonatas that had all the latest pyrotechnics. Lark played the fifth sonata in G Major in which Ysaye tried to capture dawn to day in two movements. Harmonics, double stops, glissandos, tremolos and then a rustic dance amidst bars of virtuosic technical demands were a perfect showcase for Lark’s skills. Everything was done with great control and ease.
Fritz Kreisler (another violin virtuoso) arranged Cyril Scott’s exotically sensuous piano piece “Lotus Land” (1905) for violin and piano. Lark soared with passion. And, without missing a beat, she and Hwangbo then struck into Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances” (1915) with its gutsy rhythms and lush tones. The two played with a bold exuberance that was wonderful.
After a couple of curtain calls, Lark tossed off her pink ballet shoes, and with her right foot stamping out a rhythm, she launched into a short medley of three Appalachian tunes, which included “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” It was fast, non-stop, and terrific fun. The crowd loved it.
After intermission, it was Grieg’s Sonata No. 3 in C minor (1887). Once a favorite on the recital circuit, Lark said she’s always loved its addictive rhythms and great melodies. She brought a thrilling involvement to the first movement’s dark drama with its sudden shifts in volume and virtuosic technical demands. The second movement was initially gentle before folk melodies charmed with Lark making perfect harmonics. The finale soared.
The crowd cheered with a standing ovation. Lark gave another bluegrass ditty, “Bowin’ the Strings,” which would put a smile on everyone’s face. It was great stuff.