BEIT MERY: Patricia Kopatchinskaja is known for playing with great eccentricity and dynamism. Fazil Say is said to have reinvented the way we hear Beethoven. Barefoot, the Moldovan violin virtuoso walked onto the Emile Bustani Auditorium stage wearing a white dress with red lace accents. The Turkish pianist sat behind his instrument resplendent in a black-and-red velvet tunic.
The soloists proved an outstanding pairing for Al-Bustan’s “All Beethoven” recital Sunday evening. For almost two hours, this magnificent duo performed three of Beethoven’s sonatas for violin and piano, as well as a solo violin piece of Say’s own composition.
It was an intense performance that saw the soloists barely glance at one another over the course of the concert. Once they took up their instruments, Kopatchinskaja and Say brought the entire hall of Al-Bustan attendees to absolute silence.
Their duet work is no mere collaboration between artists. They seem to literally inhabit the pieces as they play, so immersed in the music they could be sharing a trance. Fiery piano and violin solos mingled with instrumental dialogues, giving birth to a unique incarnation of Beethoven.
The players embodied Beethoven for the duration of the show, leaving the audience stunned by the pair’s sheer power and emotion.
This isn’t Kopatchinskaja and Say’s first collaboration but, based on previous accounts, each performance is an exceptional experience. The soloists released an album of duets together in 2008 and performed in Berlin in 2011.
The performers’ furor elevated tension levels in the concert hall, among the listeners if not between the musicians.
Both players have their own distinctive approach to their respective instruments.
Kopatchinskaja stomped her bare feet Sunday evening, generally comporting herself like an actor in a play, her labored breathing audible with every dynamic solo or exchange. It was a rare example of the violin truly being an extension of the artist.
Though Say was less interested in foot stomping it was as much a pleasure to watch him perform as the violinist. He too could be heard extra-instrumentally – humming at the keys, eyes closed – he was suffused in a wave of emotion that gave many spectators goose bumps.
As each sonata wound down, silence ruled the auditorium for a few seconds before audience members dared applaud, with many “Bravo!” punctuating their vigorous expressions of approval.
The stage design was quite simple. The reddish background served to accentuate the black piano and the immaculate white of Kopatchinskaja’s gown.
The only critique that could be leveled – a slight one – is that the lighting in the aisles might have been lowered a little, as it would have added more depth and intimacy to the performance.
As it is, the lighting allowed the piano’s bass and treble strings to be reflected on the interior of its open lid, enabling some curious spectators to assess the strings as they moved rhythmically at Say’s command.
Kopatchinskaja’s rendering of the pianist’s “Cleopatra for Violin Solo” was flabbergasting. Long-term residents of the Middle East could easily discern the region’s musical influences in the composition. Punctuating the soloist’s performance was her flaming arpeggios and pizzicato (string-plucking).
No one seemed to mind that a contemporary work was included in a program of “all Beethoven.”
All concerts must end at some point, but not just yet. The audience applauded the soloists for so long that Kopatchinskaja and Say felt compelled to return to the stage for an encore ... followed by another.
Al-Bustan continues Tuesday with pianist Jan Lisiecki’s “All Chopin” evening. For more information, please visit www.albustanfestival.com