It has been nearly 40 years since Israeli native Yuval Yaron won the Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki, but on Sunday the formidable violinist and UCSB professor demonstrated that his chops are still red hot. This delightful faculty recital brought Yaron and his esteemed colleague Robert Koenig, head of UCSB’s Collaborative Piano Program, to the Music Academy of the West for a substantial program of 10 works, varying in style from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2, to Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s Dance Espagnole. Playing entirely from memory, Yaron chose works that clearly have found their way into his heart, as well as his fingers.
In a gesture of collegiality, the occasion also brought to the stage Jill Felber, chair of the UCSB Department of Music, and Scott Reed, UCSB alumnus and current President of the Music Academy of the West, in joint announcement of the new UCSB Department of Music Virtuoso Fund, established to broaden resources and support for music students.
With no dainty warm-up, Yaron and Koenig leapt immediately into the deep waters of Beethoven. Passages in the first movement felt tentative, as the two seemed to take their bearings, but the playful dialogue, sense of space, and lightning strikes of the adagio that followed were wonderful. From there the ascent was steep and unrelenting: Works by Mendelssohn, Sibelius, and Rachmaninoff led to dazzling showpieces for virtuoso violin by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst and Henryk Wieniawksi. Yaron’s violin became a human voice in “Nigun” from Baal Shem Tov Suite by Ernst Bloch, with bluesy-bending ornaments and a whispery cry in the end filled with the fervor of his Jewish heritage. The unaccompanied “Concert Variations” on The Last Rose of Summer by Ernst was a triumphant catalogue of technique and finesse.