Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo in Review

Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo in Review

Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo
Ivan Ženatý, violin
Sandra Shapiro, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 24, 2017


Today’s world is filled with frenetic energy. Loud, fast, and unrelenting sounds and “news” stories assault us non-stop. People shout instead of speak, debate is reduced to memes and 140-word missives, and attention spans are getting ever shorter. For a short time, those persons who stepped into Weill Hall on April 24, 2017 were transported back to an earlier time, when things moved more slowly. The sounds were not there to assault the ears, but rather to delight them in the creations of masters like Brahms, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, and Elgar. The excellent Ženatý/Shapiro Duo took the stage to treat all present to this wonderful journey.

The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo is violinist Ivan Ženatý and pianist Sandra Shapiro. Mr. Ženatý (www.ivanzenaty.com) maintains a busy schedule as a performer, collaborator, recording artist, adjudicator, and teacher. He plays a 1740 Giuseppe Guarneri del Jesu violin, courtesy of the Harmony Foundation of New York. Ms. Shapiro (www.sandra-shapiro.com) also is much in demand as a performer and teacher, and is highly sought-after as a chamber musician.

Mr. Ženatý exudes an old-world charm, in both his dress (tuxedo with tails) and his bearing. He stood silently as the rush of late-comers rushed about the hall looking for open seats, while nodding at this pack of humanity with a smile, as if to say “Please, take your time, I will wait for you.” He also held the stage door open for the page turner, who was late in exiting the stage, before exiting himself. It all gave this reviewer a feeling of gemütlichkeit, which further accentuated the feelings of a different era.

Brahms’s lyrical Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op. 100 was the opening piece. This work is Brahms in his happiest mood, with the piano and violin as equal partners. Lest anyone think that lyrical means “simple,” this work is demanding for the players, both as individuals, and as a duo. What was apparent from the very beginning was that Mr. Ženatý and Ms. Shapiro were more than up to the challenge. Their rapport was outstanding, the balance was finely realized, and the singing phrases of the work were brought out with practiced assurance.

Edward Elgar’s 1918 Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82 followed the Brahms. This work is highly emotionally charged, filled with melancholy and angst, which was no doubt reflective of the feelings of the nation at the time, weary from the carnage of World War One. There is always the danger of the melancholy becoming overblown in this work, and the effect descending into an almost cartoonish, mawkish mess of emotional wreckage. Much credit is due to Mr. Ženatý and Ms. Shapiro for not allowing this to happen even for a moment. It was an outstanding performance of a work that this listener has never found to his liking. It was so convincing that I must re-think my opinion about the work. The audience appeared to be moved as well, as the first half came to a successful close.

After intermission, the second half opened with Antonin Dvořák’s lovely Ballade in D minor, Op. 15. This six-minute work was written for John Coates, the publisher of the London Magazine of Music. The Duo captured both the brooding opening and the sudden explosive middle section in what was a superior performance.

Ending the program was Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor, Op. 75. It has been said that Marcel Proust confessed that this sonata provided the model for the fictional sonata by Vinteuil that plays such an important part in Swann’s Way. The four movements are grouped in twos, so there is only one pause (after the second movement Adagio), a plan Saint-Saëns’ used again in the Organ Symphony. It is a brilliant work that shows both the violinist and pianist to great advantage. The Adagio was especially beautiful, but the moto perpetuo finale highlighted Mr. Ženatý’s virtuosity. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Mr. Ženatý is fully invested in the music, as he searches for and brings forth the emotions and subtleties of the works he plays. There are no histrionics, no flash, and simply no showiness. His tone is rich and warm, and his intonation is impeccable. He has technique to burn, so it would be an easy thing for him to dash off any number of virtuoso showstoppers. That he chooses to plumb the depths of deeper works reflects the confident, mature artist that he is, with faith in the best listening from his audiences. Mr. Ženatý has an ideal collaborator in Ms. Shapiro, who is a sensitive musician with superb technical command.

The duo played a beautiful Fauré encore as a final offering before we were returned to the present. It was a lovely two-hour trip, and one that I hope to take again with this fine duo.