One of the joys associated with the Mainly Mozart Festival, now in its 24th season in Coral Gables, is that it introduces audiences to rising players they are unlikely to have heard before.
This past Sunday, for the festival’s opening, it was the young Russian-born violinist Liana Gourdjia, who studied in Moscow, the Cleveland Institute and Indiana University, and now lives in Paris, where she teaches at the École Normale de Musique. Accompanied by the festival’s artistic director, the Ukrainian-born pianist Marina Radiushina, Gourdjia offered a tasteful, fulfilling recital that was a good introduction to the work of this excellent player.
At her best, Gourdjia is a violinist of deep sensitivity and musicality, with a melancholy, dark sound that comes across as urgently communicative. She has a substantial and fluent technique, though she had some intonation problems a couple times in the higher registers, and while that could simply be a result of the normal perilousness of live performance, I think it more likely that the key factor here was the icy temperature of the Granada Ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel: It’s hard to make fingers do everything they’re supposed to if the temperature is too cold.
On Gourdjia’s program, three Russian works were bracketed by two from the Germanic canon, sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, with the most diverting selection overall being the Suite in the Old Style (Op. 80) of Alfred Schnittke, one of the Russo-German composer’s most popular and frequently recorded pieces. It’s quite different from his much more forbidding chamber works and symphonies, and it has a wonderful sense of surprise and wit.
Gourdjia played these five pieces of elegant 18th-century pastiche with directness and care, with attractive warmth in the siciliano of the opening Pastorale, and long-breathed lines in the lovely minor-key Minuet. She was perhaps a touch too reserved when it came to the Bachian gusto of the second-movement Ballet, where some more enjoyment of the music’s high spirits would have been welcome. Radiushina, as always, was an expert accompanist, with sure fingers and an admirable ability to listen to her fellow musicians carefully and make them true partners.
The pianist’s work was more elaborately on display in the opening piece, the Sonata in C (K. 296) of Mozart, which is an old-fashioned style of sonata in which the pianist and violinist are relatively equal commentators; with the advent of composers such as Beethoven, the non-keyboard instrument took center stage. But Mozart’s sonata is a beauty, a model of its kind, full of charming melodies and themes enmeshed in a framework of Hausmusik modesty that are nevertheless polished to a level of immense sophistication.
Radiushina took much of the spotlight in the Mozart thanks to its construction as a duo rather than an accompanied solo piece, playing with grace and clarity. Gourdjia was every bit as precise and high-Classical, especially in the serene operatic aria that is the second movement, and the two women brought to the whole performance a strong sense of refinement.
Gourdjia noted that Sunday was Tchaikovsky’s birthday (his 177th) before playing two of his salon-like violin pieces, the Valse Sentimentale (Op. 51), originally a piano solo, and the Valse-Scherzo (Op. 34), written for violin and orchestra. Gourdjia’s melancholy sound worked admirably with the first waltz, and she brought off the virtuosic Valse-Scherzo well, though here again some more fire and abandon would have given it an even stronger impression.
The concert’s second half was devoted to the Kreutzer Sonata (No. 9 in A, Op. 47) of Beethoven. This epic work confounded Beethoven’s contemporaries; today we can appreciate the innovatory aspects of its form and admire how powerfully personal this music still is more than 200 years later. This was a strong, satisfying reading of the sonata, with Gourdjia exercising firm control over the more sprawling aspects of the outer movements and giving the theme-and-variations central movement an appealing directness.
After a warm ovation from the large audience in the ballroom, Gourdjia and Radiushina returned to Russian music for an encore: the familiar Vocalise of Rachmaninov, sweet and sentimental, but played with restraint and tenderness by these fine artists.
The Mostly Mozart Festival continues Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Granada Presbyterian Church, Coral Gables, with the Lyre Trio of flute, harp and viola. Music by Mozart, Bax and Debussy will be on the program. Tickets are $20; call 786-556-1715 or visit www.mainlymozart.com.