Two Players, Single-Mindedly Sonorous

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Chamber music satisfies most when the expression of the ensemble appears to issue from a single head and heart. Violinist Robert McDuffie and pianist Christopher Taylor displayed just such a like-minded rapport in their Terrace Theater recital on Thursday.

Both artists created the feeling of starting or finishing each other's sentences in Schumann's rapturous Violin Sonata No. 1 and Beethoven's turbulent Sonata No. 7. Each piece was treated as a continuous, ever-evolving stream of thought, with the music's surging romantic rhetoric shared as if by one voice. Taylor's playing -- emotionally volatile yet scrupulously weighted and voiced -- worked hand-in-glove with McDuffie's, which alternated restless, big-toned ardor with phrasing of tender restraint. Most affecting was the sense of emotions barely held in check that McDuffie brought to the opening movement of the Schumann.

Following a rapt, superbly balanced reading of Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel," the duo dove headlong into the pungency and hammering rhythms of Bartok's Rhapsodies No. 1 and 2, "Folk Dances." It's hard to imagine these works being played with more earth-stamping vigor or attention to detail. McDuffie conjured plenty of boisterous peasant color and entered fully into the spirit of the dance -- as did Taylor, who delivered (especially in the headlong tumult at the close of No. 2) an astonishing mix of rounded tone, percussive assault and razor-sharp clarity. Once again, their singleness of phrase and purpose was remarkable.

-- Joe Banno

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