Chang, von Oeyen dazzle receptive Festival del Sole crowd

Sarah Chang
Napa Valley Register

By L. Pierce Carson

CALISTOGA — Outstanding works by Johannes Brahms and Sergei Prokofiev were only part of the attraction that had a sellout Festival del Sole crowd cheering at Calistoga’s Castello di Amorosa on Thursday night.

Performing those works were one of the best violinists in the world, Sarah Chang, and a remarkable young pianist, Andrew von Oeyen.

A former child prodigy, Chang is a riveting soloist who began performing with a one-quarter-sized instrument, and gradually moved up from there. Ten years old at the time of her 1990 debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngster drew six standing ovations for her interpretations of several technically demanding classical works.

Thursday night’s crowd might still be applauding had the artists not left the stage following a dazzling encore.

Chang served up Brahms’ fiery “Sonata No. 3 in D Minor” as if her life depended on it. She combined both temperament and finesse while bringing out the mystery of this minor-key work, with von Oeyen appearing freely spontaneous. The violinist’s many levels of both dynamics and vibrato were very much on display throughout as was considerable body language.

She looked every bit the world-renowned artist, wearing a flamingo-pink sheath with flared kick pleats, which she needed as she shifted about the stage, punctuating the music with rather rhythmic footwork.

The performers were well matched, with von Oeyen taking the lead in the third movement, save for some virtuosic arpeggios from the violin. The fourth and final movement is the most virtuosic of all, including a shared tarantella. It was a memorable reading of the work.

Prokofiev’s “Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major” is based on the composer’s own “Flute Sonata in D,” written in 1942 but arranged for violin in 1943 when Prokofiev was living in a remote shelter for Soviet artists during World War II. His close friend, violinist David Oistrakh, asked that he turn the work into a violin sonata. It went on to become more popular than the flute version.

Chang underscored the flutelike melody of the first movement and the impish nature of the ensuing Scherzo, which crackled with rhythmic vitality.

The wild abandon we’ve come to expect in Prokofiev’s works was present in the finale. Chang and von Oeyen brought it all home in this gutsy, irresistibly spirited movement.

Violinist and pianist sent the audience home smiling, following an outstanding encore, a spirited tango from the pen of Carlos Gardel.