in: Reviews

April 8, 2013

Beethoven Well Served at the Gardner

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The dynamic duo of Corey Cerovsek, violin, and Paavali Jumppanen, piano, continued their series of the complete Beethoven piano and violin sonatas in exciting fashion at the Gardner Cube on Sunday, in the 2nd event in their 2nd series (having played the cycle here a decade back). The three sonatas from the group of ten came in Beethoven’s sequence: Sonata in F Major, Op. 24, “Spring”, Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1, and a darker hewed—and hued—intense interpretation of the Sonata in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2, as the closer.

A preview of what we might glean from the performance came from Paavali Jumppanen’s notes referencing Beethoven’s harmonic daring and the many surprises we would encounter in these sonatas. While there was all that, what came across most in these performances was the sense of tightly woven structure of each work, and an intensity of performance. Wasn’t it Bernstein who was once asked, “Doesn’t Beethoven’s music sound predictable?” To which Bernstein responded, “It sounds inevitable.”

Cerovsek and Jumppanen were at total ease with their instruments, their ensemble work, the hall, and with Beethoven. They played from memory. It was clear that these two have shared much intellectual discourse on the scores and how to get on the same page with each theme, and all that was incorporated into seamless, structural music making. Add to that a lot of momentum, energy, and gusto. Time flew. This was a masculine performance, but not one lacking grace. Even the more lyrical “Spring” Sonata was loaded with spring and action, but lovely line as well.

In the set of variations concluding the a major sonata, Cerovsek’s playing alternated between elegant, silvery, lilting (reminiscent of Szeryng or Grumiaux) to fine fiddle playing, with lots of leaning on either side of any given note. And there were these uncanny sforzandos in Variation III, a quality of a sharp attack somehow sustained throughout the duration of the note. Ensemble work was pretty spectacular. At the end of the movement, also the sonata’s end, I wanted to share a big stein of beer with the two players, with a loud, clanking toast.

Their conception of the opening theme of the c minor sonata was the highpoint of the afternoon for me. It was all about the first note, then a dying off, with no clunky emphasis the last note (a downbeat) of the phrase. This interpretation lent more gravity, but less weight to this dark theme, allowing it to float, ghostlike, in stark contrast to the rousing, major-key, march-like 2nd theme. This was all about expressing musical ideas, not a grouping of notes, and the players were religious in sharing their conception and performance of the motives and phrases. For beautiful dramatic contrast, in the development section Cerovsik spun out this opening theme with pure lyricism and rubato, while Jumppanen propelled everything forward with an intense, foreboding bass.

The Adagio of the c minor sonata might have benefitted from a bit more expansiveness, or elasticity of phrasing. The Scherzo, too, with even more emphasis on the raucous hemiola sforzando’s that throw off the triple rhythm scheme. For some reason, the 3rd of each of those szforzando sets never really got its due.

Visually, I had the violinist’s back  the whole time, with the pianist hidden behind him. Given the nature of the “cube” with audiences on all sides, a good part of the audience—at least those on the lower levels—are always behind the performers. I wonder if the piano and performers might consider rotating 180 degrees for part of the performance?

Overall, this was a feast of sound on a Beethoven smorgasbord, the duo covering a huge dynamic range, never too loud, neither ever covering the other. Even where Beethoven’s notes are thickly settled and pedaled, there was always clarity, purpose, and drive.

Finally, the audience caught its collective breath, along with the artists, in those bars leading up to the coda of the finale of the c minor, which really rocked. They were on a tear, these two, and the audience was on its feet. What a treat!

Corey Cerovsek and Paavali Jumppanen will return on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm for the final concert, part III, of this Beethoven cycle.

Jim McDonald has masters degrees in arts administration and piano performance from the University of Iowa, where he studied with John Simms. He has presented chamber music for 25 years.

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