Neue Aula, Heidelberg
Sunday 17 April 2013
Daniel Hope and Sebastian Knauer
Works by Brahms, Clara Schumann, Schubert, Joachim and Franck
It’s funny how you seem to know the person a bit when you’ve already read a few things by him. For the first time I have seen Daniel Hope live in concert yesterday, accompanied by his friend and renowned pianist Sebastian Knauer. These two gave a memorable concert in the scope of the classical music festival Heidelberger Frühling yesterday afternoon. In contrast to the thoroughly romantic programme, the location was the university’s rather clean and puristic New Assembly Hall. Maybe this was the right choice though, as eyes and ears were only focused on what happened on stage. And quite something happened!
Joseph Joachim (1831 – 1907) was undoubtedly one of the greatest violinists of his time. Sadly, his repute hasn’t traveled very well after his death, for no obvious reason. Daniel Hope, who admires Joachim, has compiled the programme ‘Hommage à Joseph Joachim’ with pieces influenced by Joachim or directly written by him for a CD in 2011. Yesterday, he presented some of the featured pieces live and only accompanied by piano.
The Scherzo in C-minor Johannes Brahms wrote for Joachim in 1853 is part of the FAE-Sonata (‘Frei, aber einsam’ – Joachim’s motto) and was beautifully interpreted by Hope and Knauer. As usual with Hope, there was much exaltation, precise fingering and very good intonation, which went superbly with Knauer’s soft and empathic playing. Clara Schumann’s Andante molto from her Three Romances for Violin and Pianoforte (1853), a dreamy piece also written for her close friend Joseph Joachim, featured a tiny bit too much vibrato for my taste. The final piece in the first part was another Brahms which was composed to comfort Clara Schumann, who had just lost her first son. Joachim had played it in their home : the Violin Sonata No. 1. Though a little scratchy at the beginning, Hope managed to superbly express the woe of Clara Schumann’s loss on the one hand, and Brahms’s encouragement for her on the other. Though pleasant in melody and interpretation, I must say that Brahms sometimes brings me very close to boredom. His long passages sometimes seem endless and he tends to lose himself in his music (which is, of course, not a bad thing in general). Once again, I think you listen to a piece differently when you know its genesis.
Hope himself spoke at the beginning of the second half about the programme and Joachim. Then he announced the next pieces, two actually vocal pieces by Franz Schubert, which were connected to Joachim through his love for Schubert songs. ‘An die Musik’ and ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ are heart-wrenchingly beautiful, I just adore Schubert’s melodies. Daniel Hope had arranged the two works for violin and piano “because we can’t sing”, he joked. A composition by Joseph Joachim himself was next, the Romance B-major, which showed how talented Joachim must have been as a violinist. The last piece was also dedicated to a violinst, though not to Joachim: César Franck gave the Sonata for Violin and Pianoforte A-major to Eugène Ysaÿe for his wedding. The work was composed in 1886 and shows definite traits of the approaching new century. Sometimes poetic, then very wild and by no means ordinary, Hope and Knauer implemented the difficult task with much expertise and emotion.
After frenetic applause, the encores were of a totally different level. Their version of Gershwin’s ‘I got rhythm’ and ‘Summertime’ were a nice change and the perfect end to a lovely afternoon with two sympathetic musicians.
Daniel Hope, British violinist and book authour, is someone who thinks about his new programme – he does have a soft spot for all things a bit extraordinary. His latest album Spheres (Deutsche Grammophon) features an exciting mixture of pieces by JS Bach and Fauré to Einaudi or Arvo Pärt. One wonders what he’ll come up with next.