The Irrera Brothers, violinist John, and pianist Joseph, list many credentials separately as soloists, but in Weill Hall this February they joined together in a performance as a duo. It is always interesting when talented soloists play together, but when they are siblings, there is an additional layer of interest. One would expect a connection between the players that would be hard to match. By and large, I found this to be the case.
Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 96 opened the program. There were balance issues at the very beginning, with the piano covering the violin, and the playing was somewhat tentative. The notes were all there, and there were moments of beauty, but I was hoping for more. Perhaps there was some nervousness at first. The Chaconne in G minor from Italian composer Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745) followed the Beethoven and whatever nerves might have present prior had happily abated. The balance was excellent, the shaping of the dramatic lines was strongly realized, and the brothers were right with each other as they built the tension into a fever pitch.
The second half opened with the World Premiere of “Bow Shock” by Russell Scarbrough (b. 1972). Written for the Irrera Brothers in 2012, this is a work that showcases their individual and duo talents to the hilt. The composer in his program notes stated, “the term ‘Bow Shock’ comes from the field of aerodynamics and refers to a curved shock wave that proceeds a solid body moving through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds. It’s a great image for this music…and I couldn’t resist the double-entendre with the word ‘bow’.” It is a jazz-tinged, driving, hyper-energetic work that invites the listener to fasten his seatbelt for the ride. It was a win-win-win: the Irreras can be well pleased that this work shows them to such great advantage. Scarbrough should be delighted with such accomplished musicians giving his music such a dynamic performance. Finally, the listener gets the best of both worlds! After this wild ride, it was time to come back to earth with Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22 from Clara Schumann (1819-1896). These works were composed as a gift for the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim. These pieces might at first glance seem light works for the salon, but they require subtlety from the violinist and pianist alike. The Irreras clearly grasped this concept and delivered a performance full of grace, wit, and charm. Ending the program was the Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 94a by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Originally scored for flute and piano, it was modified for violin by the composer at the request of his close friend, the great violinist David Oistrakh. This work, although “classical” in form, is unmistakably Prokofiev with its humor, lyricism, and driving energy. The Irreras evidently have a special affinity for this work, as it was a riveting performance. It was the highlight of a very successful concert.
The brothers offered two encores, The first was an arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 (“for Chopin’s birthday,” stated Joseph Irrera, although Chopin himself always stated his birth date as March 1). The second was “Danse espagnole” from Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve, as arranged by Fritz Kreisler in 1926.
-Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review; New York, NY