Emily Sun & Gamal Khamis

18 October, MTG, Napier, HBAF2018
By Louis Pierard

Recently named the 2018 ABC Australian young performer of the Year, as well as being the 2016 recipient of the Royal Overseas League Gold medal, Emily Sun is one to watch. And, partnered by an exceptionally fine pianist in Briton Gamal Khamis, who also counts the ROSL medal among his many awards, her recital was enthusiastically received by a small HB Festival audience.

Sun and Khamis, who are touring while in New Zealand to adjudicate the 2018 Pettman ROSL Arts Chamber Music Scholarship, gave a first-class performance of a thoughtful and varied programme, warming up with the fetching, if not momentous, Schubert Sonatina for violin and piano, D 408.

New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead’s atmospheric Torua,  inspired by the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, followed before the evening’s highlight: a stunning performance of Grieg’s Sonata No 3 for violin and piano,  a work that demanded –  and received – sustained emotional energy. Infused with Norwegian folk melodies and rhythms the sonata has both a bucolic charm and a rhapsodic intensity that seizes the heart.

Khamis began the second half with Faure’s beautiful Nocturne in B major, Op 33, No 2 before Sun returned for Poulenc’s captivating Sonata for Violin and Piano, a work Khamis says is undeservedly underperformed, not least for its technical difficulty. Poulenc was happiest writing for wind, and it is his discomfort with a stringed instrument that perhaps makes the violin sonata oddly satisfying. The usual patterns surface, but it less boilerplate Poulenc, and there is some strikingly moving writing, particularly in the melancholic middle movement, with the balance and tempi nicely judged.

The final programme item sufficed as an encore: Igor Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Op 19, in which the composer used every trick in the virtuoso fiddler’s playbook. Sun clearly relished the toe-tapping showpiece, which has to be a repertoire favourite.

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