“Yonan and Merdinger make a superb violin and piano duo, and their first album together in that capacity holds much hope and promise for future joint efforts. ” - Jerry Dubins
— Fanfare Magazine 8/2019
"The often-asked question “How could I not have heard them play before?” raised its head again this month when I played Four Centuries, a new CD from pianist Susan Merdinger and violinist David Yonan featuring works by Mozart, Schumann, Bloch and the Chicago-based contemporary composer Ilya Levinson (Sheridan Music Studio susanmerdinger.org). Both players have impressive résumés, but the Berlin-born Yonan made his recital debut in Berlin, Moscow and St. Petersburg at the age of 11. He also studied with the legendary Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard. He has impeccable technique, a sumptuous tone and a real depth to his playing.
A lovely performance of Mozart’s Sonata No.13 in B-flat Major, K454 opens the disc, with the fine balance between the instruments reminding us that the work was written as being “for Piano and Violin.”
Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1 in A Minor, Op.105 is also beautifully played, but it is the 20th century work, Bloch’s Suite Hébraïque that really steals the show here. “It is the Jewish soul that interests me,” said Bloch, and it’s that soul which is at the heart of this three-movement suite and given a brilliant realization by Yonan. It’s stunning playing.
The final work is the world premiere recording of Levinson’s Elegy: Crossing the Bridge, a short piece dedicated to David Yonan, who gave the world premiere in Chicago in 2011. Susan Merdinger is a terrific partner throughout a highly satisfying CD." Terry Robbins, The Whole Note Toronto
"This is a very satisfying recital.
Chicago-based David Yonan is a good violinist blessed with good taste and intelligence.
I could tell right away with the Mozart K454 that Yonan knows how to bring music to life.
This performance is energetic, embulient and unfussy. I was even more impressed by the Schumann. So many violinists get the Schumann violin Sonatas wrong. Too often the tempos drag or the phrasing doesn´t breathe, but that is not the case here. Yonan knows how to pace this music.
He and Susan Merdinger don´t indulge in the extreme tempo fluctuations of Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich, but their tempos work perfectly, and I found their interpretation very satisfying. Ernest Bloch´s Suite Hebraique is a display vehicle for the violinist´s moody temperament, and Yonan has plenty to display. Ilya Levinson wrote his: Elegy: crossing the bridge in 2011 for David Yonan. It sounds like it could have been written in the first half of the 20th century. It has a contemplative mood, much like the Bloch that precedes it and makes a fitting close to the Program..."
American Record Guide, Joseph Magil 2019
FOUR CENTURIES ⚫ Susan Merdinger (pn); David Yonan (vn) ⚫ SHERIDAN MUSIC
STUDIO No Number (61:19)
MOZART Violin Sonata in B, K 454. SCHUMANN Violin Sonata No. 1 in a, op. 105.
BLOCH Suite Hébraïque, B 83. LEVINSON Elegy: Crossing the Bridge, for Violin and
"Last heard from in 37:4, when she was interviewed and two of her solo piano albums
reviewed, Susan Merdinger makes a second appearance here—all the more welcome for her
five-year absence from these pages—with a new duo album, the title of which gives a
straightforward clue as to the program’s musical agenda. Susan and her violinist partner, David
Yonan, select four works for violin and piano, one each from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st
centuries, and present them in that order.
We begin with Mozart’s Sonata in B Major, K 454, from 1784, which, coincidentally,
just happens to be my favorite of the composer’s violin sonatas, probably because it’s the one I
practiced longest and hardest on to play at a college chamber music class recital. Let me come
clean: I chose it because of Mozart’s last four sonatas for violin and piano—K 454, K 481, K
526, and K 547—it’s probably the easiest one, technically, to play. But even at that, I can tell
you that many-time prize-winner David Yonan, who made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2015,
plays the piece much better than I did or ever could. His violin sings with a sweet, silvery tone,
and he and Merdinger take the second movement as Mozart marked it—a true Andante, rather
than the Adagio that many players make it. Merdinger’s runs are like strings of perfect pearls,
bright, evenly rounded, and equally weighted. The first-movement repeat is taken, and the last
movement balances the chipper and grace in pleasing proportion.
I wish that the recording engineer, or whoever was responsible for assembling the tracks
on the disc, had left a few seconds’ more silence between the end of the Mozart and the
beginning of the Schumann, for the change in style, musical vocabulary, and mood comes as a
sudden and real shock. A lot happened between 1784 and 1851, the year of Schumann’s Violin
Sonata No. 1, and what happened in that interval, primarily, was Beethoven. Secondarily,
Mendelssohn happened too, along with a number of other German composers who took
Romanticism to its next phase.
Schumann’s sonata plunges us into headlong into the height of that phase and into the
heat of the composer’s emotional angst. The music surges with troubled and turbulent passion,
the piano and violin in hot pursuit of one another in tight canonic exchanges. Respite too brief
from the swirling eddies comes in the easygoing, mainly playful, but short Allegretto. The last
movement, quite literally, could not have happened if not for Mendelssohn, as the opening bars
bear a strong resemblance to the motivic and rhythmic figure that opens Mendelssohn’s Piano
Trio No. 2 in C Minor, op. 66. The rest of Schumann’s finale is like a Mendelssohn scherzo on
steroids, an elfintanz in which the elves aren’t so elfin.
Schumann’s three violin sonatas were never chart toppers to begin with, and were
probably eclipsed three decades later when Brahms’s three violin sonatas came along. But
Schumann’s First Sonata, especially as it’s played here by Yonan and Merdinger, emerges as a
real masterpiece. I can’t honestly remember being as taken with it as I was listening to this
performance. The first movement, in particular, is really arresting in its emotional intensity.
I must correct a rather dramatic typo which is printed on the back of the album’s slipcase,
giving the composition date of Ernest Bloch’s Suite Hébraïque as 1923. It was in fact composed
in 1951, and originally intended for viola, having been written at the behest of violist Milton
Preves. Bloch did authorize an alternative version for violin and piano, and subsequently
arranged the work for viola (or violin) and orchestra. Preves had asked the composer for a work
along the lines of his earlier three-movement suite for violin and piano, Baal Shem, which was
written in 1923. I suspect that’s where the print error came from. Like other of Bloch’s
Jewish-themed works, the Suite Hébraïque is based on traditional synagogue service melodies
and cantorial chant, some of which back, certainly not to biblical times, but at least to the 1500s.
Yonan and Merdinger capture the melos and moods of the three pieces most convincingly.
As I began listening to Ilya Levinson’s Elegy: Crossing the Bridge, for the first few
seconds, I found myself in a previously unheard fourth movement of the Bloch, for Levinson’s
piece, composed in 2011, seems to adopt a similar style, at least at the very outset. But it isn’t
long before Levinson shows his true self. This is one of those pieces you will either love or hate,
depending on how you feel about pervasive dissonance, tone clusters, glassy harmonics,
fluttering tremolos, rasping sul ponticello (bowing between the tailpiece and the bridge),
double-stop glissandos, and other sound effects in the violin, not to mention clamorous clanging
and banging in the piano, and general arrythmia throughout—someone pass the defibrillator, stat.
For me, Levinson’s piece is not Crossing the Bridge, it’s A Bridge Too Far.
My personal reaction to this sort of thing ought not to prejudice my opinion of the
performance, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know on what criteria to base a good or bad
judgment. I can only assume that David Yonan and Susan Merdinger, who demonstrate their
artistry so persuasively in the Mozart, Schumann, and Bloch works, devote themselves with
equal diligence to the Levinson. That the message is one I’d rather not hear is no fault of the
messengers that deliver it.
Yonan and Merdinger make a superb violin and piano duo, and their first album together
in that capacity holds much hope and promise for future joint efforts." Jerry Dubins