Stage Whispers: “a musical treasure”

AmirAcclaim, News

Noa and Elisabeth performing in Melbourne

Noa and Elisabeth Brauß were on tour in Australia, presented by Musica Viva Australia, from 13 to 28 November 2023.

They played Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105, Messiaen’s Thème et variations, Debussy’s Sonata for violin and piano in G minor, L. 140, Lyon’s Forces of Nature, and Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in A major / Enescu’s Sonata No. 3 in A minor for violin and piano, Op. 25

Review of the concert at Adelaide Town Hall in Adelaide on 15 November in Stage Whispers (15/11/2023):

Musica Viva Australia are to be commended for importing artists of the calibre of violinist Noa Wildschut and pianist Elisabeth Brauss. Direct from the concert halls of Europe, they present a program, Wildschut & Brauss that has something for everyone, young or old, a music buff or a novice.

Schumann wrote Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 105 in a few days, and although he said that he didn’t like the way it turned out, it has a remarkable freshness. The first movement is marked ‘Mit Leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck (Passionately expressive)’ Piano and violin merge into one. Bodies sway in harmony and the two instruments play a lively game of ‘catch me if you can’ in the finale only to end with a ghostly recollection of the opening tune.

Messiaen might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is this reviewer’s favourite piece of the evening. Theme Et Variations: Violin & Piano was composed as a wedding present for his first wife, Claire Delbos in 1932. Made up of a theme and five variations, it begins simplistically before entering the complex variations. Each variation varies in dynamics, time signature, tempo, tonality, and rhythm, among other elements; however, Messiaen cleverly retains suggestions of the theme all throughout. Eerily beautiful, it is technically demanding, but seemingly effortless for Wildschut & Brauss!

Having studied Debussy’s piano works when young, I was keen to hear his Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor again. He was a sick man at the time of composing, and in the middle of World War I.

The first movement ‘Allegro vivo’ develops out of two serene and simple chords in the piano. We move abruptly from turbulence to celestial serenity and back again.

The second movement ‘Intermède: Fantasque et léger’ blends the capricious and vivacious feeling of a scherzo with moments of haunting introspection.

The final movement ‘Finale: Très animé’ opens with a return to the main theme of the first movement. Filled with mystery, the theme now seems to be opening the door to a new, transcendent world.

Devotees of Debussy will recognise the characteristic open chords and playfulness reminiscent of his etudes. He sets up a ‘conversation’ between piano and violin, both equals. Each are totally dependent on the other, one cannot exist without the other. The lushness of the sound is both comforting and outstanding.

The second half of the program begins with May Lyon’s Forces of Nature. A brand-new work (composed this year) that explores humanistic themes from nature and lore to mathematics, with narrative dualities and rhythmic precision. A feature of this piece are the violin dynamics which must be exhausting to perform.

The final work for the evening is Enescu’s Sonata No. 3 in A minor for Violin and Piano, Opus 25. Enescu is famous for his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 for orchestra, but his range of compositions is far broader. If that weren’t enough, he was a conductor of such ability as to be a candidate as Toscanini’s successor at the New York Philharmonic and a pianist of such skill as to elicit the admiration of no less than Alfred Cortot.

Even if it is technically a sonata for violin and piano, in reality it’s a sonata for a wide variety of instruments—the piano as cymbalon, lute, and pizzicato strings, the violin as crickets, larks, and most importantly, the human voice in the parlando rubato style that Bartók employed. The sheer range of effects is hypnotic. How Enescu managed to get all of that down on paper was the “greatest achievement in musical notation” for its day, according to Yehudi Menuhin.

This Sonata challenges its performers not only technically and musically, but also stylistically, conceptually, and poetically. At its conclusion, although ecstatic, both performers were spent as if they had finished a vigorous workout, which in fact they had. It is a piece requiring physical strength and endurance.

We were treated to an encore of a ‘Tin Pan Alley’ duet, a fitting end to a night of musical excellence.

On a side note, it is disappointing in this setting there are still people who do not heed the warning to put their phones on silent. The gentleman’s phone in front of me rang twice and disturbed what was a perfect concert. The performers had to wait till he could find somebody to turn his phone off for him. This shows a lack of respect for the artists and the audience.

Wildschut & Brauss are a musical treasure and an experience to be treasure! Two artists, at the top of their field of endeavour. I wish them well for the remaining seven concerts around Australia!

Barry Hill


Review of the concert at City Recital Hall in Sydney on 18 November in The Daily Telegraph (18/11/2023):

Two rising stars bring Musica Viva’s season to spellbinding end

Wildschut & Brauss sounds like a European law firm, but make no mistake these are two young women who can weave a potent musical spell.

It used to be a tradition that arts organisations would put on their major drawcard acts to round off a season, but few of Musica Viva’s subscribers would have heard of Wildschut & Brauss.

The name sounds like a European law firm, but make no mistake these are two young women who can weave a potent musical spell, as they proved in the first of two Sydney concerts to a rather modest-sized audience on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Dutch violinist Noa Wildschut has been winning awards since the age of 10 and was mentored by the world’s most famous living virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter, joining the Mutter Virtuosi string ensemble at just 13 as its youngest ever member.

Now still only 22, and armed with a 1750 Guadagnini instrument, she has been taking the music world by storm, both as a soloist and chamber musician, in Europe and the American continent.

And German born pianist Elisabeth Brauss, at 28, has an equally impressive pedigree. She is a member of the BBC New Generation Artist scheme and has appeared in the Prom Concerts as well as giving regular recitals at Wigmore Hall in London.

Although both musicians have made solo recordings, so far they haven’t been in a studio together, which is a shame as they are a supremely talented duo with a rare combination of energy and artistry. They also have great chemistry and an almost telepathic musical understanding of each other.

They started off their Australian debut tour with Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor which was written when the composer was suffering from the mental health issues that would eventually have him confined to an asylum. Passionate, insistent and lively in its outer movements, and irresistibly lilting in its slow middle, it was the ideal introduction to this exciting double act.

From the opening bars it was evident that this concert was going to be something special. It was easy to see why Musica Viva’s artistic director Paul Kildea was so mesmerised by the duo’s online performance of Cesar Franck’s sonata that he had to book them. Not only that but he got them a commission for a brand new Australian work, May Lyon’s Forces of Nature, which is receiving its world premiere on the tour.

After the Romantic passion of the Schumann there was a total contrast in the second work, Olivier Messiaen’s spacious and light-filled Theme et Variations in which, after Wildschut’s long-held high notes, you hear the tolling of church bells in the piano.

Claude Debussy’s last work, the Sonata for Violin and Piano written in 1917 during wartime and when he was bedridden with cancer, closed the first half of the program. Wildschut told the audience that it was written when there was enormous pain and violence in the world, just like today, and that it was good to “put all our emotion” into playing it.

This was a profoundly moving performance.

Lyon’s powerful work evoked the polar opposites of the summer melt of ice sheets and an erupting volcano. In two parts, both started with solo violin, the first with icy harmonics then slides up and down the finger board and a double-stopped chord where Brauss’s piano joined. Ominous bass chords gave way to the rumble of subterranean seismic shifts and bubbling bursting lava plumes, building to a passionate exchange between the two players.

A spellbinding reading of the Franck sonata that had so impressed Kildea brought the concert to a close. Wildschut’s total control of her instrument – a sweet tone, nuanced grasp of structure and dynamic presence – and Brauss’s care and attention to detail swept the audience along for 27 minutes of rhapsodic delight

The work must be one of the beautiful wedding gifts of all, its score presented to the great Belgian virtuoso Eugene Ysaye when he married his first wife, Louise Bourdau, in 1886.

Wildschut & Brauss will perform the same program with George Enescu’s Violin Sonata No. 3 instead of the Franck at City Recital Hall on Monday, November 20, at 7pm. If you get a chance book a ticket.

Steve Moffatt


Review of the concert at Melbourne Recital Centre in Melbourne on 25 November in Classic Melbourne (26/11/2023):

It takes two to tango, and rapport is the key to any lasting relationship. Famous musical collaborations that come to mind include Sutherland and Bonynge, Fischer-Dieskau and Moore, Oistrakh and Richter, Sophie-Mutter and Karajan – extraordinary partnerships that will long be remembered.

The new pairing that performed on Saturday night for Musica Viva Australia in Melbourne Recital Centre’s Elizabeth Murdoch Hall is worthy of joining this list. Star-studded duo, 22-year-old Dutch violinist Noa Wildschut and 28-year-old German pianist Elisabeth Brauss, started performing together in 2018. Since then, the two have been lighting up European stages with their compelling music-making and elegance. In addition to their rich shared musical understanding, their attitude towards one another suggested mutual respect and deep friendship. This was chamber music at its best.

Heralded by Anne-Sophie Mutter as “one of the musical hopes of her generation”, Wildschut displayed musicianship well beyond her years, interpreting each work on the program in a fresh, youthful way that was truly engrossing. She worked her magic on a loaned 1729 Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù violin known as the “Lady Stretton”, an instrument she describes as enabling “so many colours and possibilities”. (The program notes incorrectly state a 1750 instrument). Also on loan was her bow, a Dominique Peccatte mid-19th-century wonder, which flashed and bounced at the electric pace of a magic wand where the music demanded it.

Leading international soloist Elisabeth Brauss joined Wildschut on stage, partnering her with supreme musicality, technique, intelligence and adaptability. “Having to make friends with every new piano everywhere I go is exciting in a way, because the pieces always sound new”, she said.

Opening the program of Romantic and Impressionist works was Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, composed in a matter of days. From the onset this dynamic duo took command, Wildschut displaying great intensity of sound, passion and warmth, underpinned by the most sensitive playing by Brauss. Between movements, these musicians’ poise inspired complete silence and a sense of anticipation in the audience.

Engaging with the audience after the Schumann sonata, Wildschut expressed the duo’s appreciation of the hall’s acoustics and of those attending. The two then floated into Olivier Messiaen’s Thème et Variations, written in 1932 as a wedding present for the composer’s first wife, violinist Claire Delbos.

Intimate, haunting – even bleak – the opening theme led into five excitingly complex variations, some of them scaling the highest registers of the violin. Wildschut delivered these with ease, demonstrating perfect bow control and intonation. She had earlier said that “with so much going on in the world at the moment, this is a special piece to play”. This sentiment was not lost on the audience, particularly in the closing pianissimo section.

Invoking their inner Debussy, the pair came into their own with his Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor, bringing a fresh interpretation to this Impressionist work. Their risks paid off, as the work’s capacity for dynamic contrast, though perhaps over-dramatised at times, revealed the deep connection between violinist and pianist. The audience appeared collectively to hold its breath, particularly during what was surely a highlight – the pianissimo closing of the slow movement. And again, that poise.

Following interval and a re-tune of the piano, Melbourne composer May Lyon took to the stage to introduce the Melbourne premiere of her work, Forces of Nature, commissioned by Musica Viva specifically for the tour. “Being able to be part of this is an absolute gift, and it is why writing this piece was such a joy”, she told us. “It is a very special part of the program”, Wildschut added. “With a modern piece I always feel like it’s free of traditions; we can have our own fresh ideas.”

The work evokes two polar opposites – the summer melt of ice sheets and an erupting volcano. “You’ll hear the reflecting sunlight on the freezing water and cracking ice, the bubbling of an underwater volcano in its early stages and the searing heat of a fiery volcano, with leaping lava as well as its descent down the side”, Lyon explained.

Wildschut’s ethereal opening solo beautifully evoked the sunlight on ice. This was followed by a fugal passage of bubbling air escaping beneath the seabed, after which Brauss erupted into a fiery dance, lava flowing as the driving rhythms rolled across the entire range of the piano. To communicate the visions and sounds of the natural world using just two instruments was likely the challenge facing May Lyon. But for these two musical forces of nature, Wildschut and Brauss, this was not only realised, but heightened. The audience was transfixed – made clear by their appreciative applause.

Closing the program was Romanian George Enescu’s Sonata No. 3 in A minor for Violin and Piano, recorded in 1936 by the composer’s protégé Yehudi Menuhin and his sister Hepzibah – another famous partnership. Described by Wildschut as “groovy”, this technically, musically and stylistically challenging work provided a tantalising hint of gypsy violin. Wildschut’s highly focussed performance and reliance on the sheet music could easily be forgiven – she had learned this work just prior to the tour.

Undoubtedly the climax of the recital came during the closing moments of the last movement, during which both music and performers, hair flying, went a little “crazy”. Over a fiendishly difficult accompaniment, Wildschut almost willed the violin to snap in two, before a visible plume of rosin sprang from her bow in the closing bars.

After two ‘curtain calls’, Brauss announced a lighter encore – Tin Pan Alley by Paul Schoenfield. Short and sweet, it was an ideal finish to this all-encompassing program. The icing on the cake may have been if Wildschut had played this from memory.

The concert was followed by a generous on-stage discussion between performers and composer May Lyon, hosted by Paul Kildea, Musica Viva’s Artistic Director. It was a joy to witness the genuine charm and maturity of these two young performers. We will watch this collaboration’s development with great interest.

Fortunately for Melbourne audiences, this dazzling duo returns to the Melbourne Recital Centre for a second concert showcasing the first work they performed together – the Cesar Franck Violin Sonata in A Major. This is sure to be a fresh interpretation that will prove that the future of classical music is in very good hands. If you missed their first Melbourne performance, this second opportunity on Tuesday, November 28 is a “must see”.

Helen Rommelaar


Review of the concert at Llewellyn Hall in Canberra on 27 November in CityNews (27/11/2023):

Enchanting program of magical music.

ON their first Australian tour, violinist Noa Wildschut and pianist Elisabeth Brauss captivated the audience at Llewellyn Hall with an enchanting program of magical music.

Unbelievably only in their twenties, this powerhouse duo has won accolades throughout Europe, and with their great musical tenacity shown in this concert, it is easy to understand why.

Opening with Schumann’s “Violin Sonata No.1 in A Minor”, the duo put on full display their responsive and passionate playing. This was a strong indication of what was to follow.

Next was an enchanting interpretation of “Thème et Variations” by Messiaen. This piece gives the impression that it begins before the violinist even touches their bow to the strings; it’s a mysterious sound – a whisper – that appears out of thin air. Wildschut and Bruass’ refined and thoughtful phrasing was mesmerising as the long, asymmetric passages were effortlessly weaved in between the two parts in a magical dialogue. The piece concluded just as it opened, the mysterious harmonies vanishing into thin air.

Followed by Debussy’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor”, Wildschut put on a tantalising display combining theatrical playing and the subtle sounds of the violin. Colourful harmonics shimmered atop the piano line as Brauss’ sensitive and intimate playing filled the hall.

The last movement titled “Très animé” was played jubilantly, the final notes a crisp chord with a cherry-on-top harmonic in the violin, bringing everything together in a skilful display of the duo’s musical sophistication.

Following an interval, the duo presented a sensational premiere of “Forces of Nature” by Melbourne-based composer May Lyon, who was in the audience and gave a brief introduction of the piece. Lyon describes it as evoking “two polar opposites: the summer melt of ice and an erupting volcano.”

In this piece, an imaginative use of the violin and piano come together to suggest various landscapes, both real and imaginary. Tone colours vary from gentle light refracting off an icy body of water represented by crystal clear harmonics to the pesante, grating of the bow against the string, personifying a volcanic eruption.

The wild intensity juxtaposed with the more subtle gestures exploited the full dynamic and tonal range of the instruments, but the technical demands were performed with ease by this mesmerising duo.

The next piece was Enescu’s “Sonata No.3 for Violin and Piano in A minor”. As Brauss’ fingers danced along the piano and Wildschut enthralled the audience in a flurry of unravelling bow hairs, the Romanian folk melodies built up in a swirling whirlwind of rhythms and arrived at a terrific and thunderous finale.

Following a lengthy, well-deserved applause, the duo then performed a delightful encore of Paul Schoenfield’s “Tin Pan Alley”.

Dante Costa


Photo credit: Tony McDonough