You might think a recital dedicated to the legacy of 19th-century violinist Joseph Joachim would have trouble selling tickets. And in Fort Lauderdale, unfortunately, you would be right.
Tuesday’s concert by violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Sebastian Knauer didn't fill half of the Broward Center's smaller venue, the 590-seat Amaturo Theater. This was too bad because the recital was a memorable one, with a fine, original concept at its core and superb playing by both musicians.
Joachim, who lived from 1831 to 1907, knew practically everyone in the music world, and his friendships inspired some of the greatest violin works in history. He introduced the young Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann, performed with Mendelssohn and Grieg and befriended Antonín Dvořák, who wrote his Violin Concerto for Joachim.
With so many virtuosi around, it’s easy to become jaded. But Hope, a former member of the Beaux Arts Trio, has a style all his own, with a rich and varied repertoire of tone colors and a thoughtful, serious but never studied approach to the music.
The two men opened with a movement of the F-A-E Sonata, a work composed for Joachim by Brahms, Robert Schumann and a student of Schumann’s. The best-known movement, a Scherzo by Brahms, received a kinetic performance, with an almost savage power in the rhythmic, percussive sections and an ecstatic, rhapsodic tone in the lyrical ones.
The Schumanns were represented not by Herr but by Frau Schumann, with her Romanze, Op. 22 No. 1. The work opens with an appealing, unassuming melody and quickly becomes restless and turbulent. Both musicians skillfully brought out the lyricism of the work as their melodies intertwined.
They brought a largeness of style and spirit to the Brahms Violin Sonata in G Major. In the opening, Hope bowed in a manner that produced unique, flute-like sounds, and as the movement developed, brought an impassioned tone to the lyric passages high on the instrument's topmost string. The ominous, uniquely Brahmsian passages in octaves came off with a gritty power.
Throughout, Hope's nobility of tone — rich, but never sentimental — gave an almost orchestral heft to his playing. In the last movement, they brought out the turbulence of the music, displaying an ability to play in a forceful, intense manner despite the low volume.
Felix Mendelssohn, an early mentor who conducted a performance by the 12-year-old Joachim of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, was represented by two songs, On Wings of Song and Witches’ Song. There wasn’t anything songlike about Hope’s playing — his approach here was far too heavy and intense for these light settings. But at the piano, Knauer played with grace and lightness in the complex accompaniments.
Joachim’s only direct contribution to the program, his own Romanze in B-flat Major, came in for the same treatment — heavy bow pressure and intense vibrato that overwhelmed the pleasant melody, although Hope’s approach worked better for the work’s fiery middle section. The work itself was a slight one, rooted in a not particularly memorable tune, and it’s no disrespect to Joachim's legacy that his own composition was the weakest on the program.
Joachim frequently performed with Edvard Grieg, represented here by his Violin Sonata in C Minor. This was a big and dramatic performance, with the same orchestral power of the Brahms sonata, broken with the nervous quick passages and rippling arpeggios that give this work so much of its energy.
The lyric melody of the second movement was played with the tenderness that had been missing from the Mendelssohn. In the third movement, they gave a brittle, biting account of the chilly, Nordic rhythms of the opening, warming to a frenzied and exciting ending.
Although small, the audience was enthusiastic, and the cheers and standing ovation brought the musicians back for two encores. They played Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm and Summertime, the second dedicated to the conductor James Judd, curator of the Broward Center classical series, who was in the audience. The musicians switched gears easily into this post-Joachim music, and the arrangements had ample embellishments and sudden leaps in pitch that gave an improvisatory feel that fit the tone of the music.