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Violinist works magic at AMA concert

A gallery at the Albany Museum of Art was filled to capacity to hear violinist Gareth Johnson work his magic with that instrument on last Sunday evening.

He began his program with two Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin (1810-49). We’re aware that Chopin wrote 21 pieces that he called by that name. All were for solo piano. We’re also aware that violinists adapted some of these, chief among which were Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. They might have been Gareth’s own transcriptions. Modesty could have kept him from such a program designation.

Since Chopin wrote so many of these short pieces, including waltzes, mazurkas and polonaises, either he or his publishers numbered them, designated the foundational key and called the group of compositions “Opus,” which simply means “work.” Thus, the first of the two Nocturnes with which Johnson began his program would, for example, be designated Nocturne in C# minor, Op., No._ There is also a Nocturne in C#, Op. posth(umous), which means that it was discovered and/or published after the composer’s death.

There followed a big sonata for violin and piano in three movements by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Here the expression alternated between bravado and lyricism, each with broad imagination and plenty of compositional virtuosity amply matched by the playing of Johnson and Mimi Noda at the piano.

The next offering was Eugene Ysaye’s (1858-1931) Sonata No. 3 “Ballade.” Every violinist on his or her way up Parnassus (the crest of the imaginary mountain designating complete artistic mastery) is expected to master this piece of music. Our musicians of the evening did not disappoint. Caprice No. 5 in a minor by Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840) is yet another work which bears a similar expectation to the one above. There was no virtuosic lagging here either as performance standards continued apace.

The last piece, Carmen Fantasy, is obviously a transcription made by Franz Waxman, who wrote much film music from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, it is not far fetched to assume that he was a violinist as well as a composer and arranger. The Camen themes were skillfully treated by Waxman, as well as played by our two artists.

We have Albany State University to thank for bringing these two masterful instrumentalists together. Mimi Noda is a piano professor at the university and Gareth Johnson is artist-in-residence there. He still plays concerts all over the world in addition to his university duties.

James Marquis is a composer and emeritus professor of music, retired, at Albany State University.