in: Reviews

November 16, 2009

Beyond a Recital – a Piece of Art from Chin, Rostad

by

Wayman Chin, dean of the Conservatory at the Longy School of Music, joined forces with violist Masumi Per Rostad for his faculty recital on Sunday, November 15 at Longy School of Music. The friendship between the two players was not only sufficient to persuade Rostad to give his first recital outside of the Pacifica for over eight years, it resulted in an amazing outpouring of fine music.

The Sunday recital promised to be great, as the last time Rostad was in Cambridge, the Pacifica played the “Intimate Letters” Quartet of Janá?ek – a manifesto on love, in which Rostad’s viola was both the heart and the soul of the piece. This recital was great, but not only for that reason. One expects to hear the piano in an accompanying role, but Chin’s playing went way beyond that; he plays very expressively without in any way distracting from what his partner is trying to accomplish. This is done without great volume and with very light pedal. The expression is in the notes themselves – how and when they are played. Unexpectedly, it was Chin who put the wonder into the evening – or rather, it was the way the two expressed the same ideas with very different means.

How can one expect instruments with such different characters to work so well together? The viola is soulful, perfect for expressing love (as in Intimate Letters), longing, fantasy, and even (as demonstrated in the Shostakovich) anger, despair, and resignation. The piano is percussive, quick, aggressive, and complex both rhythmically and harmonically. One would not expect such unity as the two players demonstrated – but it was such a delight to hear it. I overheard a member say this was not a recital – but a piece of art.

The concert started with a sometimes awkward Sonata in c minor written by Mendelssohn at the age of 15, in 1824. (Midsummer’s Night Dream followed only a year later.) Rostad described it as a piano sonata with viola obbligato. The Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano, D. 821 that followed was written the same year, by a mature composer at the height of his power. The piece was a delight; Chin and Rostad firmly demonstrated the bond that continued through the rest of the evening.

The second half started with a minimalist piece, mu “for prepared viola,” by Keeril Makan, composed in 2007. In Zen Buddhism, when one has succeeded in clearing the mind of worldly distractions, what is left is ‘mu’. The viola – prepared with two paperclips between the strings – made the sound of wind, of air, but with distant pitches. It was serene, peaceful, – quite successful, I thought.

‘mu’ was followed by the Shostakovich Viola Sonata opus 147 – as massive a piece as one can get. The viola and piano share the weight of Russian sadness, but not without some wonderful melodies, and even a peasant dance. The final movement is full of anger, with the viola crying out against the cruelty of the gods (or perhaps the Soviets), before achieving resolution or resignation. Both players gave it their all, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

The encore– thank goodness – was a section from “Fairy Tales” of Schumann. Built on melodies from “Aus alte Märchen” in Dichterliebe, the piece conjures up a fantastic land of castles, flowers, and old melodies. Unlike Dichterliebe, in this piece the illusion does not dissolve into empty foam. A perfect antidote to Shostakovich’s despair!

David Griesinger is a Harvard-trained physicist who is eminent in the field of sound and music.

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