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Sonatas Transcend Expectations


Corey Cerovsek (file photo)
Corey Cerovsek (file photo)

Yesterday afternoon the near-capacity audience in Calderwood Hall witnessed wonderful music-making as Corey Cerovsek, violin, and Paavali Jumppanen, piano, presented “Beethoven Violin Sonatas, Part I.”

As billed, the program seemed unremarkable: a recital of Beethoven sonatas in chronological order resembles track listings for a CD. Add to this the plethora of readily-available recordings of this music, and the number of stellar performances of yore. Finally, I had heard Jumppanen before, but had not heard of Corey Cerovsek. I consider myself somewhat musically literate (although readers of this journal, and most especially commentators, hasten to disagree given any opportunity), so I cannot say I anticipated this concert with nail-biting excitement. I expected a pleasant enough concert.

I do not mind saying I was wholly, utterly, entirely wrong and so the overwhelming pleasure inspired by this concert is all the sweeter. Jumppanen and Cerovsek walked on stage, no music in hand. This was to be a concert played from memory, so very much in the vein of the Mutter and Orkis recital tour of these sonatas during the late 1990s. It is not often that Anne-Sophie Mutter pales by comparison; in this instance, she absolutely does. From the opening notes of the Sonata for Piano and Violin in D, op. 12, no. 1, this was a beautiful pairing, a stylistic marriage, yoked in creating as if anew Beethoven’s duo sonatas. This was not a violin recital with piano accompaniment, but a splendid performance of chamber music. Cerovsek and Jumppanen communicated on a deeper level than many musicians performing together; the resulting sounds were precisely placed, with shared attack and articulation, matched phrasing, a vibrancy of character throughout, and a shared vision of the music’s large-form architecture. This was a truly uncanny collaboration of two musicians who each possess great technique coupled with a high standard of musicianship. In Sonata for Piano and Violin in A, op. 12, no. 2, Cerovsek’s brush-stroke bowing maintained a core to the sound without overshadowing the other colors in the Allegro vivace. The Sonata for Piano and Violin in E-flat, op. 12, no. 3 Adagio con molta espressione opened with a gorgeously sustained mellifluous violin passage played with great sensitivity. Jumpannen’s quasi-militaristic opening statement in the Presto of the Sonata in a, op. 23 found its match in Cerovsek’s animated and unbridled joy; both retained a sense of vibrancy without reducing the music to mere surfaces. The opus 12 sonatas date from 1797-98 (opus 23 from 1800-01); this recital demonstrated how incredibly distant early Beethoven is from the music of Mozart or Haydn—indebted yet a different creature entirely. I did not know Cerovsek and Jumppanen’s recording of the Beethoven sonatas, despite its having won the 2008 MIDEM Classical Music Award for Best Chamber Music, but have now ordered it in the hopes that the recording captures at least some faint traces of the scintillating performance heard yesterday and may serve as an aide-mémoire to this unforgettable afternoon’s concert.

We are all fortunate the Gardner Museum has brought Paavali Jumppanen to Boston stages on a regular basis over the last few concert seasons. I anticipate many more wonderful performances, although perhaps none will entirely displace my memories of his performing Messiaen’s Vingt Régards sur l’Enfant Jésus in the Tapestry Room in 2010.

According to the concert program, Corey Cerovsek was born in 1972. I was convinced this was a typo. The vain among us (and who is not?) could not believe this trim youthful figure was a forty-year-old man; we all covet the secrets of his facial skincare regime (not to mention his talents on the violin). More germane, though, is my absolute puzzlement that such a gifted violinist with impeccable training (Charmian Gadd, Richard Goldner, Josef Gingold) is not more widely known as a concert soloist. It is the loss of audiences the world over that we do not hear much, much more of Corey Cerovsek.

It remains to commend the poise both musicians demonstrated in the usual aural onslaught of distractions. Coughing and sneezing were heard, and one unfortunate soul had to leave the middle of an aisle during the music to suppress an epic bout of coughing. This is a design flaw in the seating arrangement of Calderwood Hall, more’s the pity. All these sounds are amplified by the space, and the seating layout makes it all so very visible. Then there was the illicit flash photograph—mercifully the musicians were unfazed. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not report that at least one audience member found herself transported to orgiastic heights of rapture by the concert; curiously her sister beside her was not so moved. Given the squeals, the clapping, and the pulling of hair, not to mention the ecstatic facial expressions, I fully expected the musicians to be assailed by nether raiments before the hall cleared. (They were not, although I do not know what transpired when said woman accosted Cerovsek and Jumppanen at the Green Room door. Gentle reader, I beat a hasty retreat. Your reviewer has his limits.) In addition to the fabulous music, I had a taste of what attending a recital by Liszt in the middle nineteenth-century might have been like.

Corey Cerovsek and Paavali Jumppanen continue their cycle of the Beethoven sonatas on April 7 in the Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

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