Originality and Humanity: Anthony Marwood, Violin, Aleksandar Madžar, Piano, Play Beethoven, Debussy and Schubert

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Claude Debussy.

Claude Debussy.

City Recital Hall, Sydney: 5 November 2012
Madžar and Marwood play again in Sydney 10 November, 2pm, in Melbourne 13 November, 7pm, Perth 15 November, 7.30pm and back in Melbourne 17 November, 8pm.
Aleksandar Madžar will present masterclasses at Theme and Variations Showroom in Willoughby on Friday 9 November, 6–8pm, and the Australian National Academy of Music on Monday 12 November, 3–5pm. Following this tour, Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Madžar will play at the 2012 Huntington Estate Music Festival, Mudgee.

Gordon KerryMartian Snow
Beethoven – Violin Sonata no. 9 in A major, ‘Kreutzer’, opus 47
Debussy – Violin Sonata in G minor
SchubertFantasie in C major, D934

Anthony Marwood – violin
Aleksandar Madžar – piano


Huntley Dent has written on these pages “two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature.” So in the simple pairing of the two, a pair of thoughtful and sensitive musicians can ‘say’ more while ‘speaking’ less than many symphonies. Such are Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Madžar, who play with such humanity to a listener, with originality and directness, with much thought and care. They play with emotional directness even while bravely and generously plumbing the emotional complexity and ambiguity of the difficult music they have chosen.

Their interpretation even of very familiar pieces was original, coming from their deep thoughtfulness and sensitivity and always showed great sense. For example, Aleksandar Madžar used the Steinway’s redeeming advantages (though I still bemoan the decline in “pianodiversity”), namely its range and versatility, with his sensitive but deliberate touch, his playing individual but always with a keen ear on Anthony Marwood. In fact he became neither “mere” accompaniment nor “background” nor soloist, but more just the second half of the creative act. His sound was never beautiful for its own sake nor arbitrarily contrasting but always the fitting fabric for the interpretation and always in a surprising, fresh, even unpredictable way which lead the listener through the music whether Beethoven or Debussy. His technique is versatile, his spidery, plastic fingers curled, with knuckles practically to the name-board to conjure a soft, fluid legato, or flat fingered in a firmer, more pricking sound texture. His playing was always well outlined, the phrases or the individual notes, or both, having distinct and unique form with never a hint of anything pedantic or didactic.

Anthony Marwood’s bow has a very sensitive touch whether soft and delicate or on a sharp attack, singing, but never overtly shrill, despite having to play on the loud side to fill the large hall, rather a firmness allowed the notes to carry. While his partner’s playing is unapologetically pianistic, his is unapologetically violinistic and their contrast was enough to ensure both are heard and neither was trodden on. His playing gives a sense of natural inevitability to the melodic lines which somehow in combination with Madžar gives deep humanity to their combined, coalesced interpretation. He plays out his linear part in such a way that it sticks in the mind as a timeless, complete, single, characterful, whole piece of art.

Their “Kreutzer” sonata was very intense, and understandably they tired a little toward the end. Never parsimonious nor neglecting anything for the sake of easiness, they put an enormous amount of emotional energy into the warm adagio and emerged into the presto as fast as is sensible and still allows expression, especially in the very fast “rhythmically uniform” strings of 8th notes, which aren’t really uniform at all. The andante second movement with its variations was both cerebral and made emotional sense in its place in the larger whole at once and with neither contention nor compromise, but perhaps was slightly too plodding in the opening of the movement, a matter of degree rather than taste. Finally the last presto, similarly intense, perhaps tiring understandably in comparison to the first presto (perhaps Beethoven intended this?) with an ending which retains the mystery of the piece.

The pair were able to leap the Rhine nimbly, their style in never facile or bland, oscillating from Beethoven to Debussy to Schubert, which shows the sort of pan-European artistic sensibility that goes beyond nationalism and language (not to mention currency!). Debussy’s music, though, very French in the phrases’ longer spread of expressive peaks and troughs and melodies without beginning or ending which only make sense in the context of their neighboring melodies and the underlying harmony, in the end transcends language in a way which makes the music indescribable but never evasive, though nonetheless ambiguous. Marwood and Madžar’s approach was sanguine, their phrasing just as well outlined as before, very taught and sure as music, especially in the outer movements “allegro con vivo” and “finale: tres animé,” which were as much as one would hope, full of life. The middle movement “fantasque et léger” was almost as if sardonic and serious at the same time, possessing a mystery, a sort of deep well of reflected and refracted myth.

Schubert’s Fantasie, ostensibly in C major but modulating or just altering moods, flipping to a major key ecstatically all of a sudden, but then soon and almost insensibly through incredible ambiguous, unlooked for, very purple chords, slips back through these unusual places into some emotion that can only be expressed in music or between two people who happen to “speak the same language.” These chords, lingered on slightly, were extremely beautiful in Schubert’s own inimitable way. Marwood and Madžar’s musical maturity and sensitivity brought this out in a direct way, more allowing the composer to come to the fore here but not letting him waste a single note. Schubert’s ending seems to me a bit too symphonic, even a little bombastic, not as imaginative as the rest of the music — maybe he wasn’t quite as good at endings as Beethoven; more like Debussy, Schubert’s music sometimes seems all middle, with hardly a beginning or end, yet telling its own sort of “story” just as well. The encore of the already full and generous concert, the intermezzo from Schumann’s Third Sonata, was just as beautiful and just as unique a way as the others, and perhaps for being an intermezzo, but more likely their playing, it somehow made a very fitting and emotionally satisfying ending to the concert.

About the author

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller lives in Sydney and writes mostly about music and theatre, especially ballet and opera.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and once studied the piano and trombone.

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