June 14, 2006
New York Times

“The Violinist Arabella Steinbacher Makes Her Debut at Town Hall” by Allan Kozinn

Young musicians making their New York debuts have the problem of drawing an audience, often against heavy competition, before they have established a reputation, let alone marketability. One solution is to present their concerts in the late spring, when the formal season has wound down, and summer festivals haven’t started. Another is to get on a series that has a following of its own.

Arabella Steinbacher, a 25-year-old German violinist, did both on Sunday afternoon when she performed in the Free for All series of free concerts at Town Hall. It was the perfect symbiotic fit. Having won the Joachim International Violin Competition in 2000 and toured Europe and Japan, Ms. Steinbacher was a safe bet for Free for All, which doesn’t typically present debuts. And since a free concert will invariably draw listeners, the series filled Ms. Steinbacher’s need to play for people.

It worked out for the audience too. Ms. Steinbacher played a program sufficiently varied to show what she could do in several styles, old and new, and among her assets are a finely polished technique and a beautifully varied palette of timbres. She began with Grieg’s Sonata No. 3 in C minor (Op. 45), playing its opening movement with a dark, viola-like tone and drama in her phrasing. In the final two movements she demonstrated both the brighter side of her tone and a livelier technique, returning to the textured, throaty sound of the first movement only in the final pages.

Her reading of the Schnittke Sonata No. 1 showed that the deeper side of her tone in the Grieg was by no means as deep as she goes. The sonata, composed in 1963, is desolate, tense and often painfully introspective, couched in an angular language that captures and magnifies its emotional sweep. In his later years Schnittke would undercut his angularity with a quirky humor, but here he presents it straight, and Ms. Steinbacher captured its passions perfectly.

After the intermission Ms. Steinbacher turned to works that showed another side of her interpretive personality. She and her pianist, Robert Kulek, balanced lyricism and fire in an inventively phrased account of Brahms’s D minor Sonata (Op. 108). And those same elements, rebalanced to emphasize the fire, drove the reading of Ravel’s “Tzigane,” with which they closed the concert.

The program’s final concert features the guitarist Sharon Isbin and the mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, June 25 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, Manhattan; (212) 707-8787

©2006 New York Times

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