NY Times Bargemusic Review

Review: At Bargemusic, a Masterful Duo Dives Into Strauss With Breakneck Élan

As a sort of postscript to the Berlin Philharmonic’s recent week of Beethoven at Carnegie Hall, Noah Bendix-Balgley, the newest of the orchestra’s three “first concertmasters,” played at Bargemusic on Friday evening with the pianist Orion Weiss.

Mr. Bendix-Balgley, a North Carolina native named to the Berlin post last year, was first violinist of the Munich-based Athlos String Quartet from 2008 to 2011 and remained active in chamber music during his tenure as concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, from 2011 to 2015. Mr. Weiss, who was a member of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two program from 2002 to 2004, has performed widely in New York and elsewhere.

Their recital was Beethoven-free. The first half offered stirring performances of the familiar (Brahms’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A) and the less so (Janacek’s Sonata). Mr. Bendix-Balgley displayed qualities that undoubtedly serve him well in his day job: a strong, pure tone and complete assurance.

But the real excitement came in the finale of Strauss’s Sonata in E flat, completed in 1887. After a brief introduction, a swaggering flourish and various motivic fragments anticipate the world of Strauss’s tone poem “Don Juan,” composed shortly afterward. The remainder of the movement seems in retrospect almost a sketch for the orchestral work, which is catnip for any concertmaster, and Mr. Bendix-Balgley tore into it with appropriate gusto.

By any such reading, Mr. Weiss would have to stand in for the rest of the orchestra, and he was up to that task and to the substantial demands of the rest of the program. But his frequent vocalization, a hum or a muted grunt, was distracting, the more so since it came and went.

In addition to the three sonatas, the printed program promised short pieces to be announced from the stage, essentially programmed encores. Two were Jascha Heifetz arrangements of songs — Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita” and Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” — fitted out with virtuosic tricks, which Mr. Bendix-Balgley negotiated handily. The third, Joseph Achron’s “Dance Improvisation on a Hebrew Folk Song,” gave a foretaste of Hanukkah, which begins on Sunday.


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