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A Romantic Evening: Benjamin Beilman and Yekwon Sunwoo at Carnegie Hall

11.18.13
Benjamin Beilman
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer 

When David Ludwig wrote his “Swan Song” for violin and piano, he wanted to evoke the ghosts of 19th-century composers. He was particularly inspired by Schubert’s Fantasy for Violin and Piano, which opens with an elegiac melody over bustling piano figurations. The title of Mr. Ludwig’s contemporary reimagining refers to Schubert’s “Swan Song” cycle, written shortly before Schubert died of syphilis at 31.


While introducing his own “Swan Song” at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall on Thursday evening, Mr. Ludwig wryly noted that he hoped the piece wasn’t autobiographical. The young violinist Benjamin Beilman and the pianist Yekwon Sunwoo, frequent collaborators, proved temperamentally well suited to the work’s episodic climaxes and virtuoso gestures. Mr. Beilman, a passionate performer with a deep, rich tone, played the opening melody beautifully as it unfolded over the enigmatic piano motifs. Written primarily in a neo-Romantic language, the engaging work features a few contemporary interjections, like plucked piano strings. In one section, Mr. Beilman played gossamer scales that scampered fleetingly over Messiaen-like chords in the piano. A dramatic violin cadenza and exuberant piano flourishes were woven into the final section. 


Romanticism was the theme of the evening, beginning withStravinsky’s “Divertimento,” in which the shadow of Tchaikovsky looms large. Mr. Beilman’s bold sound and Mr. Sunwoo’s characterful playing were heard to fine effect throughout the work, a four-movement concert suite from Stravinsky’s ballet “The Fairy’s Kiss.” In the duo arrangement, Stravinskyesque trademarks like angular rhythms interrupt a soothing lyricism. Mr. Beilman sounded in his element during Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo (Op. 34), nimbly mastering the double stops and other bravura challenges. Originally scored for violin and orchestra, Tchaikovsky wrote the lighthearted work during the year of his ill-fated marriage. The mood turned stormier during Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, given a passionate and expressive performance, with the turbulent outbursts balanced with introspective poise by this youthful, but musically mature, duo. They offered two encores: Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 7 and a sweet-toned rendition of Kreisler’s “Liebesleid,” an ever-popular bonbon that seemed a fitting conclusion to a lyrical evening.