Above: cellist Jakob Koranyi; photo © Lisa-Marie Mazzucci
Sunday March 8th, 2015 - Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center continuing their impressive season with this well-devised programme featuring two works by Mozart book-ending intimate pieces from Bohuslav Martinů and Maurice Ravel, all played with the impeccable and heartfelt artistry that are the hallmarks of the Society's offerings.
Violin/viola duos have a noble heritage in the history of music; Bach and several Baroque composers wrote for the pairing, and just this past week we heard the world premiere of a contemporary setting by Augusta Read Thomas at The Miller Theatre.
This evening's concert opened with Mozart's Duo in g major for violin and viola (K. 423), which had served as an inspiration for the Martinů that followed. In the Mozart, Ida Kavafian and Yura Lee matched musical minds in a finely-blended dialogue.
Arnaud Sussman and Paul Neubauer then took the stage for the Martinů Duo No. 1 for Violin and Viola, “Three Madrigals” (1950).
The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů had fled the rising tide of Nazism for America in 1941. In early 1947, the prolific composer wrote at his Three Madrigals for violin and viola; this was shortly after he had sustained serious injuries in a fall from a balcony at Tanglewood in July 1946. His long recovery period contributed to his decision not to accept a position he had been offered in Prague, which had fallen under Communist rule by the time he had recovered sufficiently to travel. He did eventually return to Europe, dying in Switzerland in 1959.
Martinů had found immediate inspiration for the Three Madrigals in a performance of the Mozart violin-viola duets by Joseph and Lilian Fuchs, a brother-sister duo to whom he dedicated his Madrigals. Musically, the three pieces show a distinctive blend of Czech folk motifs with the 'vocal' style of the English madrigal. Sussman and Neubauer gave a marvelous performance, most especially in the second duet where they both trilled to scintillating effect. The brisk, dance-like third duet clearly intrigued the audience, especially when the players mutually stopped on a dime at the end.
Maurice Ravel dedicated his Sonata for violin and cello to the memory of Claude Debussy. “The music is stripped to the bone,” Ravel wrote. “Harmonic charm is renounced, and there is an increasing return of emphasis on melody.” For this duet, Yura Lee traded her viola for her violin, and Jakob Koranyi took up his Giovanni Grancino cello, which dates from 1692. The sonata's four movements slip in and out of major/minor motifs, and the work features a remarkable scherzo full of witty, ironic plucking. In the Lento, the two musicians were at their most expressive before swirling onward into the lively finale. The Lee/Koranyi rapport was a truly enjoyable experience, and Ms. Lee's bejeweled shoes were an added visual delight.
All of the musicians the joined forces for Mozart's Quintet in G minor, K. 516, which bears the date May 16, 1787, and was written during the period of the final illness of Mozart's father, who died in Salzburg on May 28th. This is music of heartfelt poignancy, coloured by melancholy verging on despair. Even the minuetto sustains a pensive mood, being punctuated by heavy chords. In the adagio, with its beautiful principal theme, we sometimes have a glimpse of sunshine behind the clouds, but in the end a gentle air of sadness prevails. The final allegro is both delicate and lively, yet it never quite shakes free of an underlying sense of shadow.
The five musicians gave a moving performance; in particular the adagio cast its spell today, with weighty pauses that had their own resonance. The feeling of a conversation, as the programme's title suggested, was strong in the players' silent mutual communication.
In the Playbill's welcoming message today, CMS co-artistic directors Wu Han and David Finckel expressed what I have always felt: "...what makes chamber music so compelling (is) the sensation that everyone is a participant in the performance, listeners and musicians alike, and that there are no barriers to artistic exchange." This has certainly been the case at every CMS performance I have attended to date.
- Mozart Duo in G major for Violin and Viola, K. 423 (1783)
- Martinů Duo No. 1 for Violin and Viola, “Three Madrigals” (1950)
- Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-22)
- Mozart Quintet in G minor for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Cello, K. 516 (1787)