Bach, Vivaldi, Kreisler, Chopin, Bruch.
Bringing them all together, Blaine Walbauer and Daniel Dowker have designed a stunning violin and piano recital that is both ambitious and delightful.
As founder and concertmaster of the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra and popular teacher of violin, Walbauer has had little time in recent years to follow what he describes as “the unwritten protocol” or tradition of orchestra concertmasters to perform in a solo recital.
“It’s the opportunity for the concertmaster to demonstrate just why a musician owns that position — has in effect, earned the first chair,” explains Walbauer. “Our program pushes some limits and is wonderfully challenging,” he says. “It is designed to move our audience through the sheer power of the music.”
Comox Valley audiences are guaranteed to be moved with this program — especially those starved for live chamber music and concerto duets — that opens with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin that requires masterful bowing technique.
“There are lots of notes in this piece,” says Walbauer, “and every time I play it, I find something new or different to appreciate.”
Following the Bach will be two movements from Antonio Vivaldi’s Le quarto stagioni — The Four Seasons — a timeless set of violin concertos composed in 1723. The varied textures of each concerto are a musical reference to the season for which it is named. Walbauer will perform, appropriately, La Primavera (Spring) and L’estate (Summer).
Vivaldi composed the concertos along with accompanying sonnets and the music is designed to reflect the words. For example, listen for “the languor caused by heat” in Summer and the sounds of a thunderstorm in its final movement.
The Vivaldi will be followed by the long, lyrical phrases and rich textures of Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro. One of the great standards for violin, the piece was composed in 1918, and though Kreisler never performed this piece himself, he is recognized as one of the most famous violin masters in history who enjoyed a long and prestigious career until his death in 1962.
Pianist Daniel Dowker’s solo performance of Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 will highlight this young pianist’s mastery of one of the most challenging pieces in the standard piano repertoire.
Chopin is often credited with developing the ballade as a form of music associated with poems. Many of the passages in this work, sometimes cited as one of Chopin’s greatest compositions, require rapid scale changes and difficult fingerings.
“I used this piece for my university entrance audition,” admits Dowker, “and I’ve been playing it ever since, for almost seven years. It’s so large, there’s so much music in the piece, it continues to grow and surprise me, always changing. It’s like looking at the ocean — it’s the same substance, but every time you look at the ocean, it changes.”
The Ballade opens with a dark uncertainty and hesitation, and then the tempo increases as a romantic melody emerges to finish with an almost heroic passion and strength. Contemporary film buffs will recognize the piece as being prominently featured in such films as The Pianist (2004) and Gaslight (1944).
The “jewel in the crown” of the Walbauer and Dowker recital will be the concerto duet of Max Bruch’s famous Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26 (1868). According to Walbauer, this Bruch concerto has never been performed in the Comox Valley.
“We are delighted to bring it to the Valley with our own particular take on this classic,” said Walbauer. “While I play the violin solos, Daniel is playing the orchestral parts as written for piano. We’re playing by ear, attending to the sensations in the score, and following each other without duelling. It’s satisfying and great fun.”
Often considered one of Germany’s most famous composers of the 19th century, much of Bruch’s fame rests on this enduring concerto that he wrote in his late twenties.
Though Bruch’s legacy among great Romantic composers is vast, the Concerto in G Minor is often cited as one of the “four German violin concertos,” the others being those of Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn.
Joseph Joachim called it the “richest, most seductive of the four.” With its expansive and memorable melodies, the concerto is rich with exciting and extended dialogues between piano and violin — a feature that Walbauer and Dowker exploit to the fullest.
The Blaine Walbauer – Daniel Dowker Violin Piano Recital takes place at St. George’s United Church in Courtenay on May 14 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, and are available at the door. Advance tickets may be purchased at Gotit-Needit-Wantit Musical Instruments at 100-2270 Cliffe Ave. in Courtenay. Call 250-338-8807.