Znaider strings to­gether Rus­sian-flavoured program

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

The com­pe­ti­tion, if you can call it that, is daunt­ing. Search Youtube for Sergei Prokofiev’s Vi­olin Sonata No. 2, which soloist Niko­laj Znaider and ac­com­pa­nist Robert Kulek will play for the Van­cou­ver Recital So­ci­ety, and the top hit will be a 1955 per­for­mance by the im­mor­tal David Ois­trakh with Vladimir Yam­pol­sky, both of whom knew the com­poser per­son­ally.

For Lud­wig van Beethoven’s Vi­olin Sonata No. 8, the cor­re­spond­ing re­sult will be a per­for­mance by An­neso­phie Mut­ter with Lam­bert Orkis. And for Jo­hannes Brahms’s Vi­olin Sonata No. 3, the third ma­jor work on Znaider and Kulek’s program, you’ll find Ois­trakh again, this time with Svi­atoslav Richter at the keys.

Leg­ends all. But for Znaider, hav­ing ac­cess to footage of mas­ter­ful fig­ures such as these is more a source of in­spi­ra­tion than in­se­cu­rity. His­tor­i­cal record­ings, the Dan­ish-is­raeli vi­o­lin­ist says when reached at a Chicago ho­tel, “are es­sen­tial in ed­u­cat­ing your taste and sen­si­bil­ity.…if used in the cor­rect way, they can be very il­lu­mi­nat­ing. And by ‘cor­rect way’ I mean by not try­ing to copy any­thing.

“These record­ings are part of the his­tory of these works, and they can in­form you,” he con­tin­ues. “Now, whether we de­cide what to play based on what we hear, no. But from time to time, I think it’s very in­for­ma­tive to lis­ten to oth­ers’ record­ings of these works—al­though with these par­tic­u­lar ones, I haven’t done that for a while, be­cause they’re pieces I’ve played so much.”

Znaider’s VRS program, he adds, has been de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with Kulek—al­though their plan­ning process is any­thing but for­mal.

“We’ve been play­ing to­gether for a good 15 years, so by now the con­ver­sa­tion goes some­thing like this: ‘Robert, how is it go­ing? How are the kids? What do we do on our next tour?’ And usu­ally this ques­tion comes two or three years in ad­vance, which is hard, right? Do you know what you’ll feel like eat­ing in two years? Of course not!”

He laughs, and turns his at­ten­tion to the fourth and short­est com­po­nent of his up­com­ing con­cert: four short pre­ludes by Dmitri Shostakovich, tran­scribed for vi­olin and piano by the com­poser’s friend and fel­low Rus­sian Dmitri Tsyganov.

“Now we’re talk­ing about food, some­how,” he says, still chuck­ling. “And these are a lit­tle bit like, in a beau­ti­ful gourmet meal, the lit­tle sor­bet they give you be­tween cour­ses to cleanse the palate. You know— that kind of ef­fect. And then we said, ‘Well, if we have that, we need some­thing else Rus­sian,’ and we wanted to pick some­thing we hadn’t played to­gether. We want to keep chal­leng­ing our­selves, and since we’ve played a lot of Rus­sian mu­sic, we set­tled on the sec­ond sonata of Prokofiev, be­cause we did the first one a cou­ple of years ago.”

There’s a con­cept be­hind it all: the heft of the Ger­mans Beethoven and Brahms bal­anced by the élan of their Rus­sian coun­ter­parts. And be­yond that? “It’s just what we feel like,” Znaider says. “Be­cause to sell the mu­sic to the au­di­ence, to present it well, we need to want to play it. Mu­sic, if any­thing, is a dec­la­ra­tion and an act of love, and if that doesn’t shine through, we don’t con­vince any­body.”

Julia Ull­rich (sec­ond from left, with Han­nah Wil­liams, Ali Wat­son, and Emily Match­ette) is find­ing out that blonds re­ally do have more fun. Anita Al­berto photo.

Hong Kong Ex­ile, FU-GEN Theatre, Theatre Con­spir­acy, and the Theatre Cen­tre present No For­eign­ers at the Cultch’s Vancity Cul­ture Lab from next Wednesday (Fe­bru­ary 7) to Fe­bru­ary 17.

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