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Record Geijutsu, August 2005
Violinist Asako Urushihara and Pianist Barry Snyder are featured in a live recording of the Brahms violin sonatas. The all-Brahms recital was given on June 3, 2004 at Kobe Shimbun Matsukata Hall, where the two artists performed all of Schumann's violin sonatas within the past two years. This CD will delight classical music lovers of all ages.
The deep rapport these two musicians have for each other is evidenced in their shared affinity, sentiment and structural understanding of the music. In particular, Ms. Urushihara's violin playing seems to have moved to a new level of sophistication. I am not referring to her technical prowess, which is already perfect; what I am referring to is the level of her artistry. She connects with the music in ways that are refreshing yet compelling. Ms. Urushihara has made the successful transition from young musician to mature artist. And this is readily noticeable in this CD. She no longer needs to promote her talent when she is performing Brahms; she is promoting Brahms when she plays Brahms. And it all comes from the depths of her heart. This is especially telling in the slower, gentler movements when her violin seems to literally sing with color.
She displays the same sophistication in the Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1. Her entrance after the lush piano introduction is sheer elegance; the colors she emits from her violin after the climactic middle section fills the air with energy; and the manner in which she makes her double stops sing with a rich clarity of tone can be described only as mesmerizing.
Her performance of the volatile second movement of Violin Sonata No. 1, as well as that of Violin Sonata No.2, clearly displays Ms. Urushihara's understanding of structural contrast. By focusing on the contrasting forces within the music, she is able to clearly define its meaning and communicate its purpose to her audience in an easily accessible manner.
The Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor is the highlight of this CD. Even the piano ensemble section makes this work feel like the grandest of them all. The main theme in the first movement is played in a comparatively mid to high range. Ms. Urushihara pulls out all the stops as she lets her violin sing with a luster and hue that leaves you enraptured. Her performance of the graceful adagio movement is calm and serene. Her choice of tempo for the short third movement is never eccentric; rather, she adheres to the composer's wishes, adding a touch of sentimentality to make for a powerfully expressive performance. The duo give a rousing performance of the very temperamental presto agitato finale, but they are able to control the fiery temperament of the music by restoring a sense of calm during the gentler passages. They hold nothing back in the final climactic section of the movement making for an unforgettable performance.
Ongaku no Tomo, August Edition
It is not often one has the opportunity to attend a concert performance that is as breathtaking and introspectively beautiful as the one given at Kobe Shimbun Matsukata Hall on June 3, 2004. This was a heavy-weight performance featuring the 3 violin sonatas of Brahms, and although the music has a thick consistency to it, the performance never once got bogged down or mired in its own eccentricities but, rather, lulled the audience into forgetting about the time. The performance was over before we knew it. And it was Ms. Asako Urushihara's unsurpassed mastery of tonal color combined together with her perfect expressive blend of interpretative insight, musicality and spirit that makes this possible; add to that the prodigious talent of Pianist Barry Snyder and you have a winning combination. Mr. Snyder holds nothing back, but neither does he steal the limelight from the violin. He is aware of every note and is always within a heartbeat of the violin's lead. This perfect blend of music making is what makes for truly great chamber music. When all the conditions are in place, music making such as this becomes a spiritual experience.
Ms. Urushihara seemed to be holding back a bit in her performance of the Sonata No. 1, but by the time she was full swing into Sonata No. 2, her playing was bold and confident. She adds a touch of boldness and interpretive drama to the rich undulating currents emanating from the serene and languid temperament of this second sonata.
The musical exchange between the violin and piano during the latter half of the performance becomes even more intense, especially in the scherzo which is delectably thrilling.
Their dramatic performance of the Sonata No. 3 is an affirmation of the music itself, never an assertion of the musical genius these two superb artists. Although this magical night came to an end, the evening's performance will not soon be forgotten.
Nihon Keizai Shimbun. June 14, 2004
Still remembered for her highly regarded performance of the complete Schumann violin sonatas in 2002, Ms. Asako Urushihara appeared once again at Kobe Shimbun Matsukata Hall for a performance of the complete violin sonatas of Brahms. Pianist Barry Snyder, who performed with Ms. Urushihara in the all-Schumann program, was once again sharing the stage with her in this all-Brahms program. The communicative power of these two artists seems to have greatly matured since their last performance just two years previous. The unique characteristics of each composition came to life under their masterful hands. Ms. Urushihara's technical prowess has taken on new subtleties as she makes all four strings of her violin sing with equal beauty. She adopted a leisurely tempo for the Violin Sonata No. 1 making the music sing with a pristine clarity. The piano was never flamboyant but seemed to be engaged in simple dialog with the violin until the closing section of the first movement when their playing became more impassioned and defined. The second movement was lush and sonorous allowing the two artists to display their prodigious musical abilities.
The Sonata No. 2 is the fairest and most cheerful of the 3 sonatas. Its swaying rhythms affect the music's subtle nuances in a delightful manner which, when really put to effective use, makes the sweet melodic lines of the second movement rapturously blissful. The music almost seems to encapsulate all the happiest moments of youth. Perhaps a bit more edge to the quicker passages would have been desirable, but the interpretation was well balanced with the final movement.
The interlude was followed by a performance of the FAE scherzo which is a lively and fun piece to listen to. However, the crowning point of the entire evening was Sonata No. 3.
Their rendition of the vibrato section was exquisite. Their performance of the entire composition itself can only be defined as bold and dramatic. Their impassioned and fiery performance left the audience captivated and breathless from beginning to end. The final two movements were particularly moving for their accuracy of inflection and melodic depth. Ms. Urushihara's intuitive approach to the, at times, complicated and somewhat muddled consistency of Brahms' music captures the very essence of the composer's intentions. She can make her four-string violin sound like a veritable orchestra. She communicates the music in a way that makes it easy for her audience to understand it. Ms. Urushihara seems to have reached the pinnacle of her musical powers.
Critical Review from Website of Kei Detani, music critic
Following their performance of the complete Schumann Violin Sonatas two years ago (2002), Violinist Asako Urushihara and Pianist Barry Snyder have joined force once again for yet another bold undertaking, this time performing the complete Brahms Violin Sonatas. (Kobe Shimbun Matsukata Hall, June 3) The first half of the concert featured Sonata No. 1, "Rain Song," and Sonata No. 2; the second half began with the FAE Scherzo Sonata and finished with the Sonata No. 3. If you closed your eyes while listening to their performance, you would not think it possible that quality chamber music of such high sophistication could possibly be coming from the violin of a young female artist. The two artists performed in perfect sync, never getting in the way of each other, allowing the other to communicate uninhibited. This was one of the most ideal performances heard in a long time. Ms. Urushihara has been blessed with a formidable technique, which she carefully uses only to serve the music. Never once does she use her technique to boast of her talent but only uses it as a tool to humbly bring out the myriad tonal colors of each composition. And the same is true of Barry Snyder, who gives a supremely beautiful performance filled with warm colors. The duo's mastery of self-control is what defines and, in the final analysis, embodies the soul of Brahms. The Sonata No. 3 is Brahms at the height of his expressive powers. Contrast this with the first and second sonatas which are less impassioned and a bit more cerebral in nature, and the third sonata comes across as a furnace of emotions.
It is a rare opportunity to come across a musical duo whose technical and emotive interpretations of the music are used only to serve the music and not as a showcase of talented genius. Ms. Urushihara and Mr. Snyder are among that rare class of artists who lose themselves for the sake of the music. And their audiences can attest to this fact, for when they listen to these two performers what they are hearing is not the music of Urushihara and Snyder, they are hearing the music of Brahms, and that is a rare opportunity few music lovers are fortunate enough to witness.
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