The last three violin and piano sonatas of Beethoven found contemporary life in the young hands of Corey Cerovsek and Paavali Jumppanen at the Gardner’s Sunday afternoon concert in Calderwood Hall. Up close, these two highly respected musicians played from memory, which made watching them even more interesting. A favorite of many, Jumppanen has performed often at the museum, this time, though, not alone. Their duo program of Beethoven: Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30, no 3, Sonata No. 9 in A Minor, Op. 47 (Kreutzer), and Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96. Their concert sold out.
With the dedicated Alex d’Arbeloff Steinway lid removed and Jumppanen at the instrument, I was already wondering if his playing would diminish the violin. It did, though less so had the lid been on, directing the sound. There were moments of finely balanced playing, even some interplay among the two as seen in their head nodding.
From the start, the dynamics in the Beethoven scores became noticeably elevated in the duo’s straight-ahead power-packed interpretations. The super acoustical diffusion of Calderwood would only heighten the crush of volume from both piano and violin—several flying bow hairs would attest to the violinist’s need to dig more and more into the strings. But it was not all about big sound. Speed—barreling might be more apt—was also center stage. Up until the last of the three sonatas, it felt like rush hour at the Gardner.
The G Major, Opus 30 timed in in less than 20-minutes and the Kreutzer at a whopping thirty-five minutes. Listeners loved it. There was even a “wow” blipping out from one enthralled listener drawing chuckles from others around the room. By concert’s end, it was clear the sell-out crowd had completely embraced this display of youth. Remarkably impeccable delivery from Cerovsek and Jumppanen saw both always on the same invisible page down to every last detail.
The opening wind-up octaves of the piano along with the single sixteenth-notes of the violin of Opus 30 wound up not p as in piano, or soft, nor did they feel Allegro assai, the “very” of the equation been accentuated. Throughout the afternoon, the whole picture verged on the monochromatic. Bigness and fastness blurred contrasts. There was just too much obviousness about this Beethoven. The third movement, again marked p, roared, not percolated. The two highly polished players (though not all was polish in the violin’s upper register) often found themselves in traffic jams, tensions running high, with nowhere to go. In the middle movement a big smile came across one listener’s face when Jumppanen took the offbeat sfs in a triplet dance-like passage as sffs.
The Kreutzer zoomed and dizzied. Cerovsek’s idea of playing suggested inspiration coming from military discipline.
The very best moments arose in the opening of the G Major Opus 96, touching, lovely, and picturesqueness of bygone times postured in moderated melancholy. Cerovsek brought wispiness to the bow; lighter pressures induced needed moments of calm. Twenty measures into the Adagio espressivo, Jumppanen explored the dissonances between the undulating, embellishing right hand and the clear, simple harmony of the left hand. Hands would then switch these roles. Such an exploration it was, mystifying in its spirit, completely engaging as unalloyed Beethoven.