Returning favorites impress at TCCA’s Third Sunday Concert |

Returning favorites impress at TCCA’s Third Sunday Concert

TCCA’S Third Sunday Concert or the Olympics? If you chose to watch ski cross last Sunday you will be sorry to hear what you missed: a one-off, full-on, top-of-the-line, two-for-the-price-of-one recital by the outstanding musicians and frequent visitors to TCCA, Italian violinist Roberto Cani and pianist Robert Thies. Much sought-after as recital and orchestral soloists, Cani and Thies play chamber music together but appeared as a duo for the first time on Sunday, Feb. 21.

Cani, who plays a Guarneri violin made in 1735 – years before Mozart was born -launched his career by winning the prestigious Paganini competition at the age of 21. “He’s a violinist’s violinist,” said appreciative local violinist Richard Altenbach, himself an A-list player.

Thies captured international attention in 1995 by winning first prize at the St. Petersburg Prokofiev competition, the only American pianist to win gold in a Russian competition since Van Cliburn’s 1958 Moscow triumph.

Sunday’s program offered an intriguing taste of two centuries of violin and piano repertoire, with works which showed off the best of both instruments in true collaboration.

The duo sparkled in Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major or 1781, showcasing their classical credentials, with technical demands characteristic of instrumental concertos.

Faure’s elegant and lush Sonata No. 1 in A-major from 1876 was a spectacular vehicle for their romantic side. Faure’s skill as the master of the French art song was evident in the soaring melodies, passion, drama and emotion, tuneful exchanges and close partnership between the violin’s mellow voice and the piano. Virtuoso playing certainly but never virtuosity for its own sake.

The second half of the program explored different territory. Five of Shostakovich’s short 24 Preludes for Piano, written in 1932-3, a dark time in his life as he grappled with the displeasure of the Soviet authorities, and arranged, with the composer’s consent, for violin and piano, ran the gamut from infectious playfulness to sarcasm tinged with sadness.

Prokofiev’s Sonata in D-major from 1943 (originally written for flute) was a passionate and extroverted finale. Though Prokofiev wrote extensively in all musical genres, it is in the solo works, for piano and for violin, that we most clearly see his classical roots, lyricism, tunefulness, and wit, even when the tone turns mocking.

Cani and Thies, by turns intense, probing, quizzical, eloquent, and vigorous, showed a complex Prokofiev way beyond the simple attractions of the “Classical Symphony,” the theatricality of “Romeo and Juliet,” or the nail-biting drama of “Peter and the Wolf.”

The encore, demanded by the instant standing ovation of the full-house audience, was a charming arrangement by the great violinist Heifetz of “Estrellita” by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce.

TCCA lures us with first class performers and fascinating programs. Better still it entices such performers to return, drawn back by the warm welcome of the enthusiastic, though not undiscriminating, audience. Cani and Thies: a package deal. What a bargain.

Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra. One of his childhood musical favorites was “Peter and the Wolf” on 78 rpm records. Winding up the gramophone was his first experience of aerobic exercise.

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