Beethoven rings from the rafters
Elizabeth Silsbury, Adelaide Advertiser
8 November 2012
As played by musical soulmates Anthony Marwood (violin) and Aleksandar Madzar (piano), Beethoven’s mighty Kreutzer sonata alone was worth the admission cost.
No complaints though regarding the other items; Martian Snow, Gordon Kerry’s fantasy about a wintry red planet, Debussy in sombre mood for Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor and one of the last utterances of the world’s greatest song maker, Fantasie in C major by Schubert.
Beethoven was at his most creative and most disciplined with his most famous violin sonata. Marwood’s full-blooded 1736 Carlo Bergonzi violin, robust and warm when low, became ever sweeter as it went higher. Under the masterful fingers and wrists of Madzar, the Steinway purred, roared, lamented and rejoiced. They are linked as if by radar, their unanimity eerily intuitive.
Rafter ringing as their big moments were, even more impressive were the many little ones illuminated by barely perceptible changes in tempo or lightening of mood.
A bond beyond music
Philip O’brien, Canberra Times
November 3, 2012
So, what does make an effective musical partnership? British violinist Anthony Marwood and Serbian-born pianist Aleksandar Madzar have been friends for so long now that their understanding is intuitive.
On reflection, Marwood says, they’re rather like a good doubles combination in tennis. There’s the individual physicality, focus and self discipline, he says.
“But in the pressure of performance there’s also the need to read each other’s actions. There’s an element of unpredictability [in performance] and so the way each of us responds is instinctive.”
Described as one of the most celebrated of contemporary musical partnerships, Marwood and Mazdar are touring Australia for Musica Viva and will perform in Canberra on Thursday.
They first met at the International Mus-icians Seminar Prussia Cove, on the Cornwall coast, in the early 1990s.
“There was an intense, instantaneous musical rapport,” Marwood recalls. “Sometimes you feel that another person brings out something in yourself that you didn’t know was there. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, we found we shared a musical connection of the soul.”
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Marwood’s versatility as a soloist, chamber musician, and ensemble director has seen him perform with orchestras in Britain, Europe, the United States and Asia.
Madzar grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, when it was part of the former Yugoslavia. He later studied piano in Moscow, Strasbourg and Brussels before embarking on an international career as a soloist. He holds academic positions in Brussels, where he now lives, and Bern.
“He has a purity of style, a truthfulness in his playing,” Marwood says. “It’s brilliance without display for the sake of it. There’s no extraneous or wasted effort. He’s not an ostentatious performer.”
Their compatibility extends beyond music. “We have a way of looking at life from a similar angle, a shared sense of humour. We enjoy each other’s company and our approach to music is a part of that.”
When the opportunities arose for them to perform together, it was a logical progression of this understanding, he says. That’s still the case. Without the need for a strict schedule of collaboration, they perform together several times each year. This tour is their first as a partnership in Australia although Marwood has visited many times as a soloist and for work with the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne.
The repertoire for their concerts has been the result of discussions between themselves and with Musica Viva’s artistic director, Carl Vine. “Gordon Kerry’s Martian Snow was suggested to us because he is Musica Viva’s featured composer for 2012,” Marwood says, “but other works were our suggestion. We wanted masterpieces where our two instruments are on equal terms but feature in different ways. We were not interested in just violin showpieces with piano accompaniment.”
So the Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 9 in A minor (Kreutzer) is warrior-like in parts, he says, an almost titanic struggle between the two instruments. Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor, his last completed work, is brief but adventurous while Schubert’s Fantasie in C major is the work that they perform together most often.
“It’s the most deeply exotic sound world that only Schubert can create for these two instruments. If anything the writing is even more virtuoso and difficult than in the Beethoven violin sonata. Schubert creates a dazzling, effervescent effect but with an incredible warmth and expressive intent behind it all.”
The pair will criss-cross Australia to perform nine concerts in 17 days. It’s an exacting schedule but Marwood says that their strong friendship overrides the inevitable stresses that arise in touring.
“One of the things about making music is that we find ourselves, with our audience, in another world. It’s an extraordinary place to be, a magical sphere. And that’s always our intention in any performance.”
After many years of performing with his ensemble Florestan Trio, Marwood now spends months of the year as a soloist. As such, he looks forward to his regular engagements with Madzar.
“We know each other so well,” he says. “It keeps me really grounded. There’s a danger [as a freelance performer] that you can lose touch with reality. Our friendship and collaborations prevent that.”
In fact, there’s no better evidence of the strength their musical partnership than in the Schubert Fantasie in C minor which is one of the highlights of their national tour.
“Apart from being the piece that we do most often, it’s become one that we love deeply and feel very similarly about. It’s such an exercise in trust, such a musical tightrope that you both have to be synchronised – musically and personally – for it to come off.”
Layers merge to perfection
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
November 7, 2012
Unfortunately a greater power than I could contradict thwarted my intent to meet Musica Viva’s office-friendly starting hour of 7pm and provide more detail on this movement, along with Martian Snow by Gordon Kerry, whose String Quintet made a universally positive impression at Musica Viva’s last concert.
In the second movement of the Kreutzer, Beethoven arguably made the mistake he avoided in the Waldstein Sonata – written the following year – of over-extending the central movement. But Marwood and Madzar drew the listener into this expansive set of variations with a ravishing sound and cogent, expressive elasticity.
The finale is sometimes criticised for failing to match the expectations of the first movement. Here, the players balanced by attacking it with energy so that its skipping rhythm sounded unbridled rather than light.
Marwood’s violin playing combines richness and clarity, precision and swirling movement. At the piano, Madzar is discreet, with a clear conception of the colour and texture he aims to conjure.
In Debussy’s Violin Sonata, they conveyed the work’s essence with sophisticated musicality, capturing brief and exquisite expressive ideas only for a moment, never dwelling or striving to bind them.
They concluded with Schubert’s Fantasie in C major, D 934, which in their hands became one of those endless Schubertian harmonic journeys in which the passage of time yields to the endless, gentle flow of inspiration.
The beauty of Beethoven, without any fist-thumping
Graham Strahle, The Australian
November 05, 2012
The first thing one notices when British violinist Anthony Marwood and Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madzar stride on to the stage is how similar they are. Tall, lean and lanky, they could almost be mistaken for each other.
But when Marwood strikes up the first noble chords of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No 9 in A major, Kreutzer, Op 47, and Madzar answers with equal poise, one begins to appreciate what this acclaimed duo is all about. Their interpretation avoids all indulgence and inhabits a world where music and thought seem to co-exist, and the result is an uncommonly delicate Kreutzer distinguished by utmost purity, sensitivity and great thoughtfulness.
Casting aside as fiction the fist-thumping, angry artist image of Beethoven, they revealed the Kreutzer Sonata in all its perfectly architected beauty. The fact is that Beethoven approached the violin as the sweetest of instruments, as all his works for solo violin bear witness, so gruffness or power for its own sake really has no place in proceedings.
There was no hectic note chasing in the Adagio sostenuto – Presto first movement but rather an air of easy grace, warmth and amiability. Marwood’s bow strokes had a distinctive taper, resulting in an overall lightness and a less buttery legato style than many other violinists, but in so doing he was able to match Madzar’s sonorities on the piano and form a wonderfully intimate union between the instruments.
They took the second movement’s theme and variations on the quick side, lending this movement a leanness and youthfulness that contrasted with the weighty tendentiousness with which it is so often played. Off-beats were elegant rather than boorish, and its trails of trills in the piano delightfully effervescent.
Just when one had become entranced by all this delicacy, Madzar leapt into the Presto finale with a pounding fortissimo chord and Marwood let fly with a furious scurry of quavers in the violin. So their playing possessed virility, too but at no time at the expense of neatness or scale.
Gordon Kerry’s Martian Snow (2008), Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor, and Schubert’s Fantasie in C major all benefited from the same approach.
A fiddle of fate gives the master his voice
Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald
November 5, 2012
The way Anthony Marwood tells it, his life has been a series of serendipitous events.
“Life is full of chance meetings,” says the British-based violin virtuoso, who plays on one of the world’s rarest violins. The exquisite Carlo Bergonzi violin, made in Cremona in 1736, was bought on his behalf by a team of benefactors led by a New Zealand businessman, Christopher Marshall, who met Marwood on a flight from London to Los Angeles.
“It turned out he already had tickets to my concert – we were doing a tour of New Zealand,” Marwood says.
“Christopher Marshall was talking to me after the concert. He was fascinated by the violin and said the words that every string player wonders whether they’ll ever hear: ‘If that violin comes up for sale I’d like to help you buy it’.”
Marwood knew the violin was not, and would not ever be for sale, so he asked: “Are you interested in that violin or are you interested in helping me?”
Marshall, a Yorkshire man, appreciated the young violinist’s straight talking and agreed to help find him a violin. After an international search, Marwood found his perfect instrument.
“I just had this strange sixth sense that Bergonzi was it,” he says. “I don’t know why. I had never even played on one. But it felt right in some very mysterious way – it was just meant to be.”
Perhaps the same forces were at work when Marwood asked a friend and colleague, the composer Thomas Ades, to compose a violin concerto for him. Ades agreed, with the proviso that it might take a while. It was to be 10 years from the initial question to its premiere at the London Proms in 2005.
“Things come to you when you’re ready to receive them,” Marwood says.
Serendipity, indeed. But look more closely and it is clear that talent, imagination and a certain fearlessness also play their part in his rise. More than just a soloist, he is an avid collaborator, whether it is playing chamber music or directing ensembles such as the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. He also co-directs a chamber music festival, teaches regularly and was acclaimed for acting, dancing and playing the violin in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale.
He is about to embark on a tour for Musica Viva with Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madzar, a long-time collaborator. It is a substantial program: Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, Debussy, Schubert and a new work by Australian composer Gordon Kerry.
“We must be insane,” Marwood says, laughing. “But somehow the language of Gordon Kerry and Debussy form one connection, and the Kreutzer and the Schubert Fantasy form another pairing. It really works.”
“Lovely concert. The audience genuinely demanded the encore, which was the intermezzo from Schumann’s third sonata (so we’re in for a treat at Huntington where they’ll play the whole thing.) It’s a huge program but a really beautiful one and there’s much pleasure in just enjoying the skill and unspoken communication of these extraordinary people. Gordon’s piece has an ethereal lucidity about it in their hands, they can play really softly! Some of the cadences in the Beethoven made me think of a gymnast landing some ridiculous vault without a wobble. The Schubert managed to be amazing and totally understated.”
On Twitter, one audience member claimed that Gordon Kerry had “out out Debussy-ed Debussy” while a patron in the foyer was heard to remark “Marwood and Madžar play with such refinement, finesse & imagination!”
Anthony Marwood & Aleksandar Madžar: “Musicians’ eyes widen just a little bit when you say Schubert Fantasie”
Debussy’s Sonata for violin and piano was his last completed work. Written during World War I and when Debussy was battling cancer, it has been viewed as “an artist’s simple plea: a return to beauty and meaning, through clarity, grace and a rejection of excess.”
Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and Schubert’s Fantaisie are among some of the biggest works in the repertoire for violin and piano. Marwood recently told the Adelaide Advertiser “The Schubert is kind of a dazzling score, and ferociously difficult to play… yet there’s something incredibly natural and effervescent about the sound. But musicians’ eyes widen just a little bit when you say Schubert Fantasie.” Beethoven’s score, on the other hand, went on to inspire further creative output, including Tolstoy’s novel of the same name, which in turn was the basis for a string quartet by Janaček (coincidentally performed by the Takács Quartet earlier this year).
Don’t miss your chance to hear these incredible works in concert – you can still buy tickets to any concert on this tour, including Adelaide tonight.
Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Madzar rehearse in Adelaide today; the first concert of their Australian tour is tomorrow in Adelaide. The tour then heads to Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth and Sydney.
When Anthony was in Australia earlier this year he sat down to discuss this tour with Musica Viva’s Tim Matthies. You can listen to the interview here.
Anthony also recently spoke to ABC Classic FM’s Mairi Nicolson for her Music Makers program. You can listen to that interview here.
And if you still haven’t had enough of Anthony, why not have a look at what our colleagues in New Zealand discussed with him, in this interview not long before his recent New Zealand tour.
“It’s really wonderful now having the chance to explore this amazing repertoire with someone I feel intensely close to musically. He’s such a good friend and I’ve known him so long that we have a really solid basis to our musical relationship.”
Marwood has also been working with young musicians, rehearsing with a chamber orchestra from the Australian National Academy of Music for the Huntington Estate Music Festival. Prior to that Anthony performed with orchestras in Christchurch and Auckland. The New Zealand Herald described his interpretation of Vasks’ concerto ‘Distant Light’, which is also on the program at Huntington, as “riveting”.
We’re certainly looking forward to hearing Anthony’s diverse repertoire choices over the next few weeks!
Madžar and Marwood also seem to share an unflinching capacity for self-criticism, coupled with gentle humour. Both qualities emerge further when the two discuss the repertoire for their Australian tour. Schubert’s Fantasie in C, D934, is a case in point.
‘What I love about Schubert’s music is the extraordinary ambiguity to the emotions,’ says Marwood. ‘He’s one of the few composers who can write melodies in a major key that sound incredibly sad. There is a magic in this duality. Should you smile? Should your heart break? It’s extraordinary.
‘In the Fantasie, he writes incredibly virtuosic material, and yet you just know that effect he wants is not display. It’s this radiance. You look at his music and wonder, how did he think of this?’
‘It is very difficult – almost unplayable, actually,’ says Madžar. ‘It’s one of the few pieces where you think, “What got into him?” I think it’s one of his greatest.’
After his many concert tours Down Under, as soloist, music director and chamber musician, Marwood is well known to Australian audiences. For Madžar, this will be a debut. It will also be his first encounter with the music of Musica Viva’s 2012 Featured Composer, Gordon Kerry.
‘I’m curious, in every sense,’ says Madžar. ‘The Kerry is an extremely sophisticated work. You can see it’s from somebody who really looks for substance and who has a very sensitive ear.’
Substance and sensitivity: are these essential to beauty? Marwood remembers his teacher, Sándor Végh (Hungarian, which is one of Madžar’s mother tongues) gesturing out to the Cornish sea in an attempt to describe how a phrase should be played. ‘The sea changes all the time. He would look through the window and say, “It must be like THIS!” I suppose I’m more interested in trying to get inside the language of the composer than I am in creating prettiness, or a non-specific kind of beauty,’ he reflects. ‘If everything is the same kind of beauty, it is no longer beauty. You only have to be in nature to see how diverse it is.’
Shirley Apthorp © 2011