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The French Connection

New York
Morgan Library
02/08/2002 -  
Cesar Franck: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Maurice Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Cello
Camille Saint-Saens: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso

Shunsuke Sato (violin)
Marcy Rosen (cello)
Evan Solomon (piano)

John Pierpont Morgan and I both grew up in the same town of Hartford, Connecticut (some years apart). In fact, one of my dear friends lived in Mr. Morgan’s downtown apartment, the original in-house bank vault converted to a lovely central living room. Even in death, the financier is the leading resident of the Insurance City: the family mausoleum in Cedar Hill Cemetery the most imposing this side of Rome. In New York, this former president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and zealous Francophile’s Madison Avenue home has been converted into a gallery space and houses, among other treasures, the finest collection of scores in this hemisphere. The autographs of both the Franck and Ravel works on today’s recital were on display and served as visual examples of the vastly different personalities of the two composers: the Ravel manuscript is ordered and monkish, the Franck sloppier and more emotive, right down to the dedication to Eugene Ysaye.

The recital itself was designed to introduce the phenomenal talent of 17-year-old Shunsuke Sato to the crowd by pairing him with veteran local chamber musicians. I have heard Mr. Sato perform in the past and actually had heard of him even before then from orchestral players who had performed with him in his younger years. His is an exceptional talent that shows itself most impressively in his command of the technical (he fortuitously possesses an abnormally long last digit which allows him to play very strongly and athletically upon his e string) and his projection of a full-voiced tone rare from someone of his years. It is perhaps too much to expect a fully developed emotional range in such a youthful artist, but what might have been missing from the Franck in terms of passionate reflection was compensated for by a steady and controlled intensity of execution. Where lesser artists might be satisfied with refining only their mechanical skills, Mr. Sato told me recently that he has been studying the performance styles of various past masters of his instrument with a view towards growing his own interpretive skills. He has already shown me that there is considerable intellectual activity behind the highly musical presentation.

The Ravel was the best performance of the day, the complex interplay of the two stringed instruments coordinated brilliantly, even if Marcy Rosen, as an experienced player, may have been more comfortable within the jazzy idiom. The bridge between these two disparate composers is Saint-Saens. Born only two years after Brahms, he was still around to walk out of the first performance of Le Sacre. The famous encore-style piece was flawlessly navigated by Sato who seems to me to be destined for soloistic stardom. What is perhaps most important is that he is the type of artist who will want to have his own conception of each of the works which he exhibits before the public. I remember how stunned I was by his mature version of the Strauss Sonata at the tender age of 14. Now concertizing throughout the world, he shows growth that has been measured and prudent. Besides, he has more talent in that little finger than many of his elders do in both of their hands.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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