October 18, 2011

Chang, Von Oeyen a Powerful Pairing

The Boston Globe
By Jeffrey Gantz
October 18, 2011

It’s not unusual for star instrumentalists to hype the “equal relationship’’ they have with their recital partners or fellow performers. But in their Celebrity Series of Boston recital program Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall, violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Andrew von Oeyen were equals in every way. They talked to each other, they listened to each other, they gave each other space.

Chang, of course, is the star, a child prodigy who now, at 30, is one of the world’s premier violinists. Yet the pieces she and von Oeyen chose - the Scherzo Johannes Brahms wrote for the collaborative “F-A-E’’ Sonata, his Violin Sonata No. 3, Christopher Theofanidis’s “Fantasy,’’ and Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata in A - showcased the piano as much as the violin.

Gangly and tousle-haired and hunching over his instrument, von Oeyen looked like the reincarnation of Van Cliburn, and when Chang bent toward him, as she did frequently, you could see him listening to her out of the corner of his ear. She would lean back, or kick a foot, or dance from side to side; she even hopped. All that was reflected in the tone of her Guarneri: warm, pungent, by turns romantically intense and meditatively mellow, never thin or glossy.

There was actually too much piano in the Scherzo, but that was Brahms’s fault (he was only 20 when he wrote the piece) and not von Oeyen’s. The later (1888), full-throated Violin Sonata No. 3 balanced the violin’s smoldering Gypsy yearning against the piano’s galloping runs and heavy chording. The Franck started in a more delicate vein of wistful recollection that erupted into stormy rapture and perhaps reproach before a nocturne-like truce was called and a playful, “top that’’ finale ensued. In between, American composer Theofanidis’s “Fantasy’’ was a harmless, enjoyable bit of movie-music comfort food.