Only content and expression


“Hardly had Nikolaj Znaider given his first concert as new “Capell-Virtuos” at der Semperoper than one had to regret that this Sunday matinee would be the only chamber music program of the four concerts the violinist is giving as a guest of the Sächsische Staatskapelle this season. Because that meant this was the only opportunity to listen so extensively to the Guarneri Znaider has been playing for a number of years now (it was once Fritz Kreisler’s instrument) and to have the stimulating chance to appreciate the enormous variety and intimacy with which, in his extravagantly unfurling sound, he responds to all the ideas and details of the compositions.
To match the big violin sound, pianist Robert Kulek was a partner whose musical understanding and rich palette of pianistic colours were perfectly matched to Znaider’s playing, supporting and enhancing it almost symbiotically. This natural collaboration would have been enough to make the morning a delight. And yet the three works on the programme were not all of the “delightful” variety. The piece that came closest was the first, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 8 in G-major. Not troubling themselves or their audience with ponderings, concentration exercises or mannerisms, the musicians practically leapt into the music. Their refreshing start revealed an attitude confirmed throughout the recital: virtuosity is never a matter of superficial show for either of them (the trappings of virtuosity are as little a part of Znaider’s musicality as they were of his predecessor Rudolf Buchbinder’s). On both instruments it formed the understated foundations of a way of playing dedicated entirely to content and expression. The three movements of the Beethoven sonata shared a lightness that performers rarely allow the composer to reveal. In the Menuet, Znaider and Kulek even enhanced the buoyancy with spirited rhythmic accents.
In the following work, Robert Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in d-minor op. 121, the musicians underscored their variability and accuracy of tempo with an even further-reaching dynamic line. Here Znaider and Kulek achieved a completely different, intensely emotional interpretation, but with never a hint of sentimentality. Nikolaj Znaider’s incredibly resonant pizzicato in the third movement, was truly exciting. And the duo maintained fullest inner tension throughout the challengingly energy-laden fourth movement as well.
The last piece on the programme was César Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A-major. Once again totally different in approach, it was far more colourful and worked out to the finest filigree detail, with the second movement offering a contrastingly energetic attack. Nikolaj Znaider and Robert Kulek had particular opportunity to showcase the refinement of their playing in the three-part third movement: that both instruments had a big, warm tone even in the soft passages demonstrates their ability to form sounds completely individually. The same applied to the clarity of their fortissimo. Although the Sonata in A-major did not achieve quite the overwhelming tension of the pieces before the interval, the few tiny unconcentrated moments did nothing to diminish the power of the concert experience. To follow the serious works, Znaider and Kulek played three Brahms Hungarian Dances as encores, and at the very end charmed the audience with a dose of delicious humour.”
Hartmut Schütz, Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, October 4, 2011


Brahms Complete Works for Violin & Piano CD recording on Pentatone Classics


There’s a strongly lyrical impulse in Arabella Steinbacher’s playing which is suited to the intimate character of these Sonatas…Robert Kulek is an admirable duo partner and projects both the richness and clarity of texture in Brahms’s writing through a carefully controlled use of the pedal, responding wit sensitivity to the subtle inflections in Steinbacher’s phrasing…… My enthusiasm for these musically insightful performances. Pentatone’s recording has real presence.”
BBC Music Magazine, August 2011 *****
“Arabella Steinbacher and Robert Kulek approach these timeless scores with a velvet-gloved tenderness and affection that dispels any sense of Brahms being an ‘intellectual’ composer. Steinbacher produces a sensuous sound of beguiling purity that sends Brahms’s rich cantabile lines soaring aloft and receives wonderfully sympathetic support from Kulek…in terms of sheer beauty of sound Steinbacher and Kulek have no rivals.”
Classic FM Magazine, August 2011 ****


Gramophone “Editor’s Choice” April 2011

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‘Echoes of Paris’ –
Augustin Hadelich (vn) Robert Kulek (pf)
Avie ASV2216 Buy now

(72′ • DDD)

Poulenc Violin Sonata Stravinsky Suite after Themes, Fragments and Pieces by Pergolesi Debussy Violin Sonata Prokofiev Violin Sonata No 2, Op 94a

This imaginative recital disc dips into the bubbling cauldron of artistic ideas that distinguished Paris in the early decades of the 20th century, drawing on sonatas by Debussy and Poulenc, and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, to illustrate the breadth and variety of expression that the city could foster and entertain. Prokofiev also nudges himself in because of his Parisian exile in the 1920s and ’30s, though his Second Violin Sonata – a reworking of the Flute Sonata – was written when he was back in Russia in the 1940s.

Hand in hand with the intelligence of the programming go the wondrous playing of the violinist Augustin Hadelich and his like-minded pianist Robert Kulek. These are exceptionally compelling performances, sharply defined in character, immaculately articulated, rich in interpretative acumen and blessed with extraordinary finesse. Hadelich has a marked and dynamic capacity to identify and convey the qualities that render each composer so individual, the juxtaposition of Poulenc’s Sonata and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella offering perhaps the most graphic example. The Poulenc, dedicated to the memory of Federico García Lorca, has a dramatic intensity allied to that winsome tunefulness and sanguine harmony that were Poulenc’s stocks in trade. The Stravinsky, here played in the 1925 transcription that the composer made in collaboration with the violinist Paul Kochanski as opposed to the usual Samuel Dushkin one, is, by contrast, spare, astringent, grippingly incisive and vibrant of colour. The players also get right to the nub of Debussy’s Sonata and the Prokofiev on a disc that cannot be recommended highly enough.

Geoffrey Norris



Kulek has the technique and the musicality at his disposal to coax from his grand piano the most subtle nuances of tone; this is what makes him such an ideal accompanist.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Robert Kulek, who presented the ultimate in quickness of reaction, assuredness of expression….poetic touch and an abundance of nuances.
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Kulek’s playing was remarkable in its intensity.
The Guardian

Kulek traces Grieg’s rippling phrases with amazing clarity, etc… Music of Ravel echo through Kulek’s stunning pianism…. It is magnificent.
The Irish Independent

The spotlight shifted to Kulek in Beethoven, in which he demonstrated the piercing intelligence behind his chiseled playing, and an overwhelming sense of purpose and determination.
The Vancouver Sun

Robert Kulek’s pianism was extraordinary…. Kulek is a consummate musician. His subtly calibrated musicality served the composers nobly.
The Miami Herald


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