Miami Piano Fest closes series with night of violin sonatas

By Dave Rosenbaum

Pianist Walter Ponce and violinist Gary Levinson performed Tuesday night at the Miami International Piano Series.

Pianist Walter Ponce and violinist Gary Levinson performed Tuesday night at the Miami International Piano Series.

Judging by the quality of the music being made at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater Tuesday night, one might have thought that Walter Ponce and Gary Levinson had been playing together for years.

In fact, their concert of piano and violin sonatas, presented as the final event of the Miami International Piano Festival’s Master Series, marked only the second time the Bolivian pianist and Russian violinist had played together.

And, yet, Ponce, who has performed with major orchestras and in international recital halls, and Levinson, senior principal associate concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, were complete partners in performances of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms that were elegantly refined and deeply expressive.

Ponce and Levinson barely exchanged a glance all evening, but their styles were complementary—unified in modesty and an instinctive feel for the music. Their interplay was organic, and their approach intelligent, emotive without being ostentatious, allowing the music to speak for itself.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, the opening work on the program, calls for considerable interplay between violin and piano. Ponce and Levinson were like long-time acquaintances having a conversation though speaking different musical languages. Levinson’s violin sound is Old World, edgy yet sweet and tinged with dark melancholy. Ponce is more varied in his tone, his forte passages forceful without being overbearing, the softer moments atmospheric and having a gorgeous transparency.

In Bach’s Violin Sonata in E Major, BWV 1016, written for violin and harpsichord, substituting piano for harpsichord brings this baroque-era piece more into the classical period, the piano line more rounded and lyrical than the clipped harpsichord. Levinson and Ponce brought forward a more Romantic emotional expressiveness with Ponce’s beautiful playing in the Adagio a highlight.

The only distraction Tuesday in this partnership was Levinson’s unfortunate placement directly in front of Ponce, blocking the view of the pianist’s hands. But it didn’t diminish the evening’s significant aural rewards.

Ponce and Levinson’s individual virtuosity shone through most clearly in the evening’s final work, Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1. In the opening movement, the two instruments seem to be charting their own course, as if they’re speaking at cross-purposes. Ponce and Levinson delicately negotiated the parallel lines, resulting in a unified whole notable for its clarity and musicality. Their convergence in the finale and wistful recapitulation of themes attested to the 19th century pianist Clara Schumann’s comment, “I wish the last movement could accompany me to the next world.”

Instead, after a standing ovation from the regretfully sparse crowd, Ponce and Levinson offered an encore of Faure’s Sicilienne.

The Miami International Piano Festival presents pianist Jorge Luis Prats March 19 at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center.

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Wed Mar 2, 2016
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