Music Review : Violin-Harp Duo Shows Promise in Engaging Performance at USC


Spectrum, the enterprising, wide-ranging concert-lecture series at USC, began its 1999-2000 season Tuesday by presenting the engaging duo of award-winning violinist Chee-Yun and Cleveland-based harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. In the refurbished, renamed Alfred Newman Recital Hall on the university campus, the recently formed ensemble gave an attentive audience of mostly students a highly entertaining performance.

When these virtuosic musicians get their act together, they are going to be a valuable addition to the ranks of touring chamber players. At this inaugural appearance, they kept a tough audience on the premises with strong and engrossing playing and charming talk between pieces. Yet the total seemed to be half-baked.

A few transcriptions alternating with original works for the violin-harp combination made up the neatly paced program. Even with some recurring, tentative ensemble work and one stubbornly reiterated spelling error in the program and introductions--the oft-committed sin of adding a tilde to Habanera--most of the performances proved admirable. Chee-Yun, a winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1990, has all the technique, confidence and aplomb a young violinist needs; Kondonassis' colorful harp playing is smooth, resourceful, ever-musical.

The longest and most compelling piece on the program, Sergiu Natra's Music for Violin and Harp (1964), gave the duo musical challenges and virtuosic opportunities to test its ensemble qualities. The little-known Israeli composer writes in a mellifluous and pungent non-tonal, mid-century style. Similarly ear-opening and pleasing were unfamiliar works by Bernard Andres ("Zerbina") and Saint-Saens (the Fantasy in A, Opus 124).

After a French group--pieces by Massenet, Ravel and Ibert--the program closed with an unpolished, probably under-rehearsed run-through of Bartok's ubiquitous Romanian Folk Dances.

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