A duo to reckon with

By Arun Dias Bandaranaike

It is unlikely that Mandhira de Saram had made it her aim to effect a triumphal entry into the realm of performing arts in Sri Lanka, but none would have remained unimpressed by the self-assured competency and mastery of the idiom on her chosen instrument, the violin, at two delightful and satisfying performances at the British Council auditorium, Colombo, the first on Monday, August 11 and the other on Thursday, the 14th.

Both these presentations were intended to raise funds for the Sunshine Charity, a noble attempt to raise the dignity and skills through the conduct of a workshop tailored to benefit a hitherto impoverished community of 35 boys and girls in Sambalthivu in the eastern town of Trincomalee, that had been affected by the traumatic experience of the tsunami of 2004.

Mandhira and Radhika

With Eshantha J. Peiris as her collaborator at the piano Mandhira has compellingly established her mark, and thus a very credible duo was launched in Colombo whose music making suggest that audiences would want to hear a great deal more from them in future. Considering that they had, previous to this series in Sri Lanka, never before worked together, it is quite awesome that their maturity of musical purpose and communication was so effectively displayed.

A veritable tour de force common to both evenings was Grieg’s Sonata No 2 for violin & piano, in G. This monumental work surprised, in that the violinist was able to exert every sinew in raising the emotional stakes of the piece with near perfect (if not perfect) expression. The task was the more demanding in the context of the completely absorbent ambience of the BC Auditorium, a room so dry and unyielding in its acoustics that even a robust contrabass would sound distant and brittle. But the warmth and resonance of the violin was effectively brought to bear from the first strains of the Lento of the first movement. The excellent control of dynamics was again notably evident in the Allegro animato of the last movement; a suitably winsome juxtapose of power as well as a lighter-than-air feel.

Another vital factor that recommend this duo is their eagerness to perform contemporary works, even pieces that are so new as to be unfamiliar. Thomas Hyde’s Winter Music (written in 2004) served as a good example.

The melodic line was an oblique aria that was quite arresting from the opening stanza, and although one can be tempted to refer to this as a mood piece there was a definite undercurrent of subtle tension that begs the complete attention of the listener; and with the at times unconventional attack and phrasing, the interplay was the more exciting to behold and relish.

On the second of the evenings, the Bartok Duos for Two Violins presented an opportunity for another engaging phenomenon, that of siblings playing in the frontline! This was with the inclusion of Mandhira’s sister Radhika de Saram. The seven short works were anything but simple party pieces. The fact that this very youthful player was able to commendably and without pause or error negotiate the demanding intervals and variations in attack along with challenging tempi suggests that there is, in her case too, a great deal to look forward to.

Unlike Mandhira who continues with her studies and professional engagements as a performer in the UK, pianist Eshantha Peiris has returned to his homeland after extensive studies in New York University. In addition to the tried and tested 18th and 19th century repertoire the fact that Eshantha too, strives to include and work with contemporary compositions is welcome and bodes well for listeners who wish to move on with modern approaches, tonality, rhythm and metre and melodic invention that provoke the imagination.

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