Cincinnati’s Ascent International Chamber Music Festival, the brainchild or Alan Rafferty – its artistic director – and cellist Sarah Kim, opened with a varied program featuring music by Mozart, Leoš Janáček, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Robert Schumann, with Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel, two extraordinary musicians who perform as the Duo Ingolfsson-Stoupel.

In 1778, at the age of 22, Mozart’s only care in the world was dealing with his heartbreak in the aftermath of a youthful case of unrequited love. He dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 18 in G Major, K. 301, to the Countess Elizabeth Auguste, of Palatine and Bavaria. This work became known as one of the six ‘Palatine Sonatas’ for violin and piano. Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel brought out with spirited buoyancy the joie de vivre that characterizes so much of what Mozart wrote during this time of his life.

By the age of sixty, Leoš Janáček made peace with the demons of his earlier years, resolving to embrace melody and shun atonality, along with finding a deep connection to the folkloric music of his Moravian roots. But the year was 1914, and the Great War raged on, and thus his four-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano contains moments of what the composer described in a letter as “… the sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head…”, a sound ever-present in the work’s final Adagio, where blunt interruptions by Ingolfsson’s violin repeatedly disrupted the serenity of the music with dramatic intensity.

Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 27, No. 2, “Jacques Thibaud” is one of a set of six violin sonatas written in 1923, each in turn dedicated to Joseph Szigeti, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom, Manuel Quiroga, and Jacques Thibaud, six of the Belgian musical showman’s contemporaries. The “Jacques Thibaud” sonata sports four movements interspersed with snippets of Bach and random variations on the Dies irae. The sonata has a plethora of technical hurdles for the solo violinist: double stops, sul ponticello filigree, descending chromatic scales, repeated spiccato attacks… Judith Ingolfsson played this technical minefield with dazzling technical prowess and carefree precision.

Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata #1 in a minor, Op. 105 was written in 1851, five years before the composer’s untimely death at the age of 46. As early as 1833, Schumann had begun to show frequent symptoms of emotional instability, described in the medical jargon of the time as nervous melancholia.  But even as late as 1851 Schumann was creating music that never hinted at any kind of mental disorder. And, self-critical as he often was prone to be, Schumann expressed dislike for his opus 105, which he abandoned, writing: “I did not like the first Sonata for Violin and Piano; so, I wrote a second one, which I hope has turned out better”. Still, Clara Schumann privately performed it at the end of that year and premiered early the following year.

The sonata has three movements: the first, marked in German Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck (“with passionate expression”), a second Allegretto, and a third marked Lebhaft (“vividly.”) Throughout its duration Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel played with soulful intensity tempered by a thorough understanding of the structure of this composition, bringing to a memorable closing their concert – the first of the 2022 Ascent International Chamber Music Festival.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

Next up: July 1st at 7: 30 pm the festival continues with Ode to Friendship, a program that features Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio, Gabriel Fauré ’s C Minor Piano Quartet, and the Cincinnati premiere of Jessie Montgomery’s Duo for Violin and Cello, with participating artists Judith Ingolfsson, violin; Yoo Jin Jang, violin; Melissa Kraut, cello; Scott Lee, viola; and Sandra Rivers, piano, and co-founders and cellists Sarah Kim and Alan Rafferty.

All concerts take place in the College Conservatory of Music on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.

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