Axel Strauss press reviews
By D. S. CRAFTS
The second half brought to the stage German violinist Axel Strauss, a Santa Fe favorite for good reason. Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, a showpiece surely, is far more than a vacuous exercise in violin pyrotechnics, and Strauss played it with the classically controlled passion one would associate with a concerto movement, finishing with a fury of moto perpetuo.
Sarasate’s Fantasy on themes from the opera Carmen was written for his own performances and represents the full spectrum of 19th century virtuoso technique. Strauss’ brilliant rendition was highlighted by celestial harmonics and cascading passagework encompassing the full range of the instrument.
San Francisco Classical Voice
By ALEXANDER KAHN
The success of the Brahms was due in no small part to the artistry of soloist Axel Strauss, a German-born violinist who now teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory. Strauss’ reading of the piece was remarkably flexible, drawing attention to layers of detail through tempo modification and dynamics. Above all, Strauss emphasized the radical shifts of mood throughout the piece, from the alternately fiery and lyrical passages in the first movement to the jocularity of the third. His performance had an air of refreshing spontaneity that made it seem that the violinist was exploring and discovering the piece anew rather than delivering a pre-packaged interpretation of a great masterwork.
Strauss’ artistry was infectious, and the orchestra responded with a solid yet subtle accompaniment. The beginning of the second movement was particularly noteworthy for its expansive opening oboe solo, played with wonderful expression by principal Margot Golding. Throughout the concerto the ensemble played with impressive dynamic range, matching the shifts of mood suggested by Strauss. Music Director Alasdair Neale kept his ear keenly on the soloist and thus safely guided the orchestra through the many rubatos taken by the soloist.
by RICHARD RAND
Strauss did likewise in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and his noble command of the violin brings out still other kinds of operatic power. He performs as a virtuoso and a teacher. As a virtuoso, he played with a rich, warm tone straight from the heart, with flawless intonation and phrasing and with a fluent nobility of line that sustained itself from first to last. This is almost impossible to achieve.
The challenge of Beethoven’s solo part lies in its total exposure. Unlike, Tchaikovsky concerto, Beethoven’s gives the soloist no relief -- no large orchestral backup in which to hide. But Strauss worked this exposure to the greatest advantage, letting every note speak without the slightest sacrifice of fluency, clarity, warmth or nuance of phrase. He plays like Nathan Milstein.
San Francisco Classical Voice
By BENJAMIN FRANDZEL
The sonata is one of those forms that forever attract composers to make a Big Statement, to test the limits of their abilities as musical architects and expressive artists. It still yields results for modern composers, especially when the music is given to artists at the level of violinist Axel Strauss and pianist Mack McCray, performing Friday at the San Francisco Conservatory's Hellman Hall, where both teach.