Keys and Strings at Ben’s

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An appreciative audience recently enjoyed an evening of violin favourites at Ben’s Theater in Jomtien.  The programme featured violinist Jonathon Glonek who made his first international tour at the age of twelve and has since developed as a gifted violinist and performing artist.  He won a scholarship to the University of California where he studied with Alexander Treger and later in Europe studied with the legendary Hungarian virtuoso Tibor Varga.  Jonathon was recently featured as soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Ukrainian National Festival Symphony Orchestra in Kiev.

From the beginning of the concert it was obvious that he is a fine violinist with a brilliant mastery of the instrument.  The programme began with a performance of two of the Slavonic Dances by Dvořák which are among the composer’s most well-known works.  Originally written for piano, they’re usually heard in the composer’s own colourful orchestral arrangements.  Jonathon then gave a beautiful performance of Dvořák famous Humoresque No 7 which the composer wrote during a summer holiday.

Jonathon Glonek (violin) and Usa Napawan perform at Ben’s. (Photo: Colin Kaye)Jonathon Glonek (violin) and Usa Napawan perform at Ben’s. (Photo: Colin Kaye)

Jonathon rich and sonorous tone quality came to the fore in his delightful performance of another Dvořák favourite, Songs My Mother Taught Me.  This must be the composer’s most familiar piece and Jonathon played the arrangement made in 1914 by the violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.  I was impressed by Jonathon’s fluid vibrato and his sparing but effective use of portamento, perhaps an influence of the Hungarian school of violin playing.

Jonathon then performed two well-known works by Edward Elgar, first the Salut d’Amour, a delightfully old-fashioned salon piece and the composer’s best-selling work.  It was followed by the less well-known but technically challenging La Capricieuse which calls for complicated bowing and other advanced techniques.  Not surprisingly, Jonathon seemed to be in his element in this difficult piece and gave an impressive and thoroughly musical performance.  The piece was a showcase for his superb bowing skills.

The final work in the first half of the programme was Fritz Kreisler’s delightful Caprice Viennois.  Kreisler is regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time and this piece contains echoes of gypsy music as well as a nostalgic slow waltz.

Throughout the concert Jonathon was accompanied by Usa Napawan on a Yamaha Portable Grand DGX digital piano which produces an excellent and authentic tone quality.  Perhaps we should have heard a bit more of it.  The best accompanists are always concerned about playing too loudly, but I felt that Usa was sometimes a bit too restrained.  Even so, she is clearly a competent and sympathetic accompanist and plays with a great sense of musicality.

Usa obtained her Master’s Degree in Piano Performance from the College of Music, Mahidol University.  She has performed with acclaimed singers and instrumentalists in Thailand and is currently teaching at the New International School of Thailand and Shrewsbury International School Bangkok.

The second half of the concert contained two major works, both by the nineteenth-century Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski.  First was his Violin Concerto No 2, one of the great concertos of the Romantic era.  The work has some memorable melodies but has a demanding variety of challenging techniques and the brilliant finale contains reminders of joyful gypsy-style music.  Jonathon produces a lovely rich tone especially in the low register and the slow movement was magical.  He really brought out the gypsy character of the last movement too.

The concert concluded with Wieniawski’s Polonaise Brillante, first performed by the composer in 1870.  It provided a thrilling conclusion to a satisfying musical evening.