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Gasson Hall Well Served


Irina Muresanu (file photo)
Irina Muresanu (file photo)

In an introduction to their recital at the renovated Gasson Hall at Boston College on Sunday, violinist Irina Muresanu mentioned that she and her collaborator, pianist Ju-Ying (“J.Y.”) Song, became acquainted through their work with the Pro Musicis Foundation, which brought classical music to under-served communities. While we’re pretty sure that Boston College doesn’t fit that characterization, the exceptional quality of Muresanu’s and Song’s program left us thinking that no venue to which these performers brought their talents could thereafter claim under-served status.

They began with Beethoven’s familiar Sonata No. 5 in F major, op. 24, universally known as the Spring Sonata, to which they brought a lovingly fluid opening and delightfully springy second subject in the first movement, a gorgeous cantabile to the second, lighthearted pep and rhythmic ebullience in the evanescent scherzo, and a satisfyingly dappled array of moods and colors in the finale. Muresanu gratified with her deference to the piano where its part ought to be prominent, and Song likewise with her compatible silky tone, phrasing and dynamics. We also liked Muresanu’s understated but effective spiccato in the finale.

The central spot on the program (there was no intermission) was given to the premiere of Thomas Oboe Lee’s Grand Duo, op. 151. A title like that conjures thoughts of the galant style and early Romanticism, but as Lee acknowledged in his oral introduction, the key influence on the piece is Bach, so much so that two of the five movements could be misread as actual quotations, and another as a hat-tip to a particular popular Bach number. The opening movement features a downward ranging ostinato in the piano against violin passages that primarily go up. The instruments collaborate based on the slightly creepy ostinato in phrases that break off before they’re quite done. The second movement is an exercise in Bachian counterpoint that illustrates Lee’s stated goal of writing the way Glenn Gould would have played, with ample material to bring out in the inner voices. In this respect, Song was the perfect foil to Muresanu’s bustling, tootling top line, which broke out occasionally in impassioned lyrical descant that suggested Villa-Lobos without the national elements. The third movement was a scherzo whose outer sections were a sprightly gigue framing a surprise bluesy trio in a harmonically more “advanced” idiom (speaking relatively: the Bachian music was really Bachian in sound, and the trio more like, say, Franck—when Lee went neo-tonal he did it all the way, like Easley Blackwood). The fourth movement was another haunting one, whose violin line sounded like it was going to break out in the tune from Bach’s Toccata in D minor, but never got past its opening motif. The piano part featured three ominously repeated staccato chords. The finale began as mock-Rachmaninov, with a flowing arpeggiated piano line and soaring lyricism in the violin, but just before the end they switched to rapid passagework en route to an abrupt close. Muresanu and Song were superb throughout, and the work, while charming and effective, did leave one wondering, “why?”

Ju-Ying (“J.Y.”) Song (file photo)
Ju-Ying (“J.Y.”) Song (file photo)

The closing item was Ravel’s Sonata No. 2 in A major, written between 1923 and 1927, while he and le tout Paris was in thrall to American jazz and blues, abetted by W. C. Handy’s several tours. Full of classic Ravelian elegance, wit and charm, with a stab at a blues middle movement (heavily reliant on pitch bending for the violin and a piano part more reminiscent of Debussy’s Golliwog than actual blues). Harmonically there is a fair amount of bitonal bite, quite à la mode in its day and therefore lending a period charm to it now, and making it the most harmonically advanced work on the program. It is, moreover, a performer’s showcase, and Muresanu and Song made the most of it, especially in the whirlwind finale with some jazzy episodes. The two players appeared perfectly matched in temperament and technique, and the entire enterprise was, as we said, immensely satisfying.

Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble.

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