Znaider strings together Russian-flavoured program
> BY ALEXANDER VARTY
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.