Sunday’s recital featuring violinist Johan Dalene and pianist Sahun Sam Hong fulfilled the sterling promise of the La Jolla Music Society’s Discovery Series that features young artists. The two young musicians gave a polished, highly persuasive performance of their well-balanced program.From their opening salvo of Arvo Pärt’s ingratiating “Fratres” to Violin Sonatas by Grieg, Brahms, and Ravel, the duo impressed The Conrad’s full house of La Jolla Music Society (LJMS) patrons. Neither artist had performed for the LJMS before, and Hong was a last-minute substitute for Georgian pianist Giorgi Gigashvili, who experienced visa difficulties attempting to travel to the U.S.A. But judging from Dalene’s and Hong’s fraternal, seamless musical collaboration on Sunday, they could have passed for a well-traveled team.
And as LJMS President and CEO Todd R. Schultz explained in his program introduction from the stage of The Conrad, the duo will be traveling to New York City to make their Carnegie Hall debut on Thursday with Sunday’s program.
I was taken with the passionate brio they brought to Edvard Grieg’s C Minor Violin Sonata, Op. 45, notably in the opening of the first movement and the fervent climax of the last movement. Throughout the sonata, Grieg balances his brilliant forays with ample lyricism, which Dalene communicated with a suave sense of dreamy aspiration. He sports a silvery sonority, beautifully balanced throughout the instrument’s compass. The duo soared as they unleashed the scintillating drive and athletic counterpoint of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 108. As Hong coaxed a wide range of rich colors from the Steinway in the Brahms work, I kept hoping Dalene would match his discriminating range of timbres. That would have taken my breath away!
The duo gave a mesmerizing account of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” a popular, short contemporary piece that makes few demands on the listener but is still worthy of attention. However, I thought the three short selections from Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano were too slight to include on the program. Expect the New York critics to be more dismissive.
The duo found admirable concord in Maurice Ravel’s 1927 Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano. With the composer’s generous supply of ethereal themes for the violin, Dalene flourished, and in the bluesy middle movement the supple bounce of his melodies aptly complemented the understated swagger of Hong’s saucy piano riffs. And the panache of their vibrant closing “Perpetual mobile” proved the perfect conclusion to a joyous outing at The Conrad. Their encore was Lili Boulanger’s “Nocturne.”
This program was presented by the La Jolla Music Society on Sunday, January 29, 2023, in the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in downtown La Jolla.