A surprising number of children piled into the sold-out Mansion at Strathmore Hall to hear violinist Nicholas Kendall and pianist Pei-Yao Wang on Thursday night, perhaps as a result of Kendall's outreach performances for kids. It's easy to see his appeal to people young and old. Every time he bounded onto the stage, he flashed the assembled young 'uns an ingratiating grin. He made a few jokes, exclaiming "It was in tune when I bought it!" as he wrestled with his instrument during a longish tuning break. When applause broke out between movements, he encouraged it. In short, he radiated high spirits.
The performances benefited from this enthusiasm. Fritz Kreisler's dazzling showpiece, "Variations on a Theme by Corelli, in the Style of Tartini," made for a rousing opener, and a dashing performance of Beethoven's third violin sonata struck just the right balance between wit and gravity. Although Kendall and Wang couldn't enliven the ponderous despair of Tchaikovsky's "Meditation," the pop-style tunes in Paul Schoenfield's "Four Souvenirs" allowed them to dig into rhythm and blues notes; the last souvenir, an infectious "Square Dance," brought down the house.
Still, Franck's relatively reserved violin sonata drew from Kendall and Wang their most memorable performance. Kendall's tone, a wonder throughout the concert, shone especially golden here, as his direct, thoughtful playing made Franck's autumnal lyricism breathtakingly vivid and affecting. Wang invested her supporting material with equally fervent feeling. Their eloquence reached a peak in the Recitativo-Fantasia third movement; here Kendall and Wang forsook earthly fun to peer into a rarefied lyrical world indeed.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone