In September 1990, Virginie Robilliard was selected as fourth-place laureate in the Third Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. That event’s standout player was David Kim, who received only fifth-place laureate, but is now the Philadelphia Orchestra’s concertmaster. Well, things change: Robilliard’s playing at last Tuesday’s IVCI Laureate Series program was considerably more impressive than I had noted some 17 years earlier. In fact, I would now place her among the top several laureates in the seven competitions run so far. She appeared along with the Ronen Chamber Ensemble in the two groups’ one annual get-together. In fact, French-born Robilliard, 37, elevated the Ronen players merely by her presence, in works by Chausson, Bartók and Ravel.
First we heard the familiar Poème for violin and piano, Op. 25 (1893), by Ernest Chausson — perhaps better known as a piece for violin and orchestra. Pianist Silvia Patterson-Scott accompanied Robilliard in a beautifully wrought reverie that could easily have been composed by César Franck (as could many Chausson works). The poetic nostalgia was palpable as Robilliard delivered a rich, evenly centered tone, fluidly expressive and complementary with Patterson-Scott’s nicely nuanced keyboard work. Though Robilliard occasionally strayed off pitch, it wasn’t sufficient to compromise Chausson’s mood.
Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet followed, the quartet featuring violinists Robilliard and Louise Alexander, violist Nancy Agres and cellist Ingrid Fischer-Bellman. The harpist was Wendy Muston, the flutist Leela Breithaupt (replacing ailing Rebecca Price Arrensen) and the clarinetist was Ronen co-founder David Bellman. Ravel is a composer of colors, and they were all present herein, including a captivating harp cadenza.
Following intermission, we heard Béla Bartók’s three-movement Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano (1938), with Robilliard, Bellman and Patterson-Scott. Again we had beautiful violin playing, making the Lento-marked slow movement less ponderous than it might otherwise have been. The Finale, an Allegro vivace, became a fast romp for our players before Bartók’s cadential trademark: ending on a “tonic” key as though that had been the “home” key throughout the piece, when actually his scores are as close to atonal as you can get. This time the key was A major (for those who are interested).
The concert ended with Ravel’s big violin display piece, Tzigane for violin and piano (usually orchestra). Here Robilliard put “hair” on her bowing as is fully appropriate for this Hungarian-themed piece, with a long, introductory solo before the piano enters. She began with a few pitch problems, which quickly disappeared when she got into the moment. Patterson-Scott, as well as our laureate, offered lots of dazzle, finishing in a whirlwind.