Wu and Elizalde close Sunday Afternoons of Music season in style

By David Fleshler

Violinist Tien-Hsin "Cindy" Wu performed with pianist Julio Elizalde Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

There’s an extra element of excitement when musicians substitute at the last minute, or close to it, for indisposed colleagues. Some of the music world’s brightest stars caught their initial break as unknown stand-ins for more eminent performers.

And so, after the Russian violinist Sergej Krylov was forced to cancel a performance Saturday night because of visa difficulties, violinist Tien-Hsin “Cindy” Wu and pianist Julio Elizalde, walked on stage at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall and wowed the crowd with a terrific recital of works from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Wu, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, completed graduate school in 2010 at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, where she studied with Midori. Elizalde holds a doctorate from Juilliard, where this fall he will become an assistant instructor of piano.

The recital, presented by Sunday Afternoons of Music, actually began with a thud, with four Schubert songs arranged for violin and piano. Although the performances of well-known works such as Die Forelle and Im Frühling were more than competent, the melodies came off as monotonous on the violin, gaining nothing from the arrangement and losing the articulation and drama of the human voice.

But they followed that with a sparkling, high-spirited and virtuosic performance of Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major. The two young musicians entered effortlessly into the spirit of the work, bringing off its difficult passages with a light touch that kept the music tripping along. Wu played with quiet intensity in the opening theme, with a singing tone that never got too emotional for the music. Elizalde matched her, rendering the complex accompaniment with a natural flow and articulate touch that lent crispness but never hardness to the performance. In the final section, Wu played the rapid bouncing-bow passages with the sort of light ease that recalled Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, keeping the fireworks delicate and in scale, which was ultimately more impressive than the ostentatious displays of effort from other performers.

Next they entered the tempestuous world of Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1, playing the opening movement with a passionate style that was largely the opposite of the Schubert work. Elizalde’s work came to the fore here, making the turbulent accompaniment surge with drama, but with a silken elegance to his playing that never allowed the sounds to become harsh.

The program ended with Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, with the two performers giving a vibrant, energetic performance of this popular work. The opening melody was richly colored, warmed by Wu’s tone on the violin. In the Scherzo, both musicians played in a sharply articulated, emphatic, spiky style that gave maximum energy to the music. The Andante had a clean, modern feel, with both playing in a restrained manner that allowed the music to emerge without excessively personal interpretation. Although the previous works had allowed Wu to show off her honeyed tone, she wasn’t afraid to make sounds that were less obviously beautiful, drawing a hard, buzzing sound from the instrument’s lowest string in the bumptious sections of the last movement.
Although the program focused on works in which violin and piano were equal partners, the encores made the violinist the star. They played a Hungarian Dance by Brahms, with Wu revealing her throaty tone on the lower strings, and they performed the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita, as arranged by Heifetz, played by Wu with wistful nostalgia.

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Sun May 20, 2012
at 4:05 pm
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