in: Reviews

March 18, 2014

Fine Beethoven from the Emmanuel Crowd

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Nearing the end of its four-year Beethoven chamber series, Emmanuel Music offered a well-chosen program of lesser- and better-known works in a concert held on Sunday afternoon in the Parish Hall at Emmanuel Church.

Two pieces for Wind Octet framed the program. The players were Alyssa Daily and Joseph Demko, horns; Peggy Pearson and Jane Harrison, oboes; Eran Egozy and Bruce Creditor, clarinets; and Thomas Stephenson and Adrian Jojatu, bassoons. It was this combination of instruments that provided the dinner music for Archbishop Maximilian Franz, Elector of Cologne and Beethoven’s employer before he left for Vienna in November 1792. The Rondo in E-flat Major, WoO 25, may have been the original (or substitute?) finale for the four-movement octet that concluded Sunday’s program. It consisted of an ingratiatingly melodious refrain introduced by the first horn, followed by an interlude in C minor starring the first clarinet and first oboe and a reprise initiated by the first clarinet. The second interlude in E-flat minor was a delightful duet for the two very nimble horns with bassoon accompaniment. The final reprise, after some virtuosic passage work by horns and clarinets, closed with an understated farewell duet by the muted horns.

Beethoven wrote some fifty songs in his early and middle years, expanding on a German tradition of songs within the reach of amateur performers. Paul Guttry was the bass soloist in a group of four. Two strophic settings on the theme of longing were followed by a third on a single stanza, that was presented to Countess Josephine Deym, with whom Beethoven was then infatuated. “Der Bardengeist” (The Bardic Spirit), WoO 142, a strophic narrative in the “romance” tradition, was couched in a gentle swinging tempo. Guttry’s delivery was appropriately unaffected, devoid of operatic gestures and dependent on clear German enunciation for its carrying power. Leslie Amper was the skillful accompanist.

Beethoven set Friedrich von Matthisson’s 1790 poem “Opferlied” (Song of Sacrifice) twice, first for solo voice and piano and in a revised version for soprano, chorus, and orchestra. In Emmanuel’s performance, arranged for four voices, piano, and cello, Krista River’s warmly resonant mezzo in the first stanza contrasted with soprano Roberta Anderson’s brighter tones in the second. In each stanza, tenor Charles Blandy and bass Paul Guttry joined the two women in an echo of the final lines. Lynn Nowels’s obbligato cello solo enriched the texture of the second stanza, and Leslie Amper held it all together with characteristic sensitivity.

Violinist Danielle Maddon and Amper made a fine duo in the deservedly popular Sonata in F Major, op. 24 for Piano and Violin, “Spring”, from 1801. With true reciprocity, the two played as equals, each partner lending varied character to individual themes and motives as they passed from one instrument to the other. Maddon’s smoothly singing tone and nimble articulation were well matched by Amper’s crispness. Sustained singing through the richly ornamented melodies of the second movement contrasted with devilish offbeats in the Scherzo that brought a burst of laughter from the audience. The concluding Rondo was played with fine sensitivity to nuances of articulation and phrasing.

Beethoven proposed a collection of arrangements of popular songs in various languages for voice and piano trio to his Scottish publisher, George Thomson, between 1815 and 1818, but they did not make their way into print until 1902. Five songs from this collection on Spanish and Portuguese texts showed us a less familiar aspect of Beethoven’s oeuvre. The opening piano chords of “Yo no quero embarcarme” (I don’t want to set sail) imitated guitar strumming; the exotically tinged melody was sung with ringing flair by tenor Charles Blandy. who joined bass Paul Guttry in the romantic Portuguese duo “Seu lindos olhos” (Your beautiful eyes). Two boleros — “Una paloma blanca” (A white dove), sung by Roberta Anderson, and “Como la mariposa soy” (I’m like a butterfly), a duet sung by Krista River and Charles Blandy, played on the idea of fleeting love. Blandy concluded the set in high style with “Tiranilla Española” (The little Spanish tyrant).

The Wind Octet in E-flat Major, op. 103, was within a bundle of Beethoven’s works enclosed in a November 1793 letter Haydn wrote to the Elector Max Franz in Bonn, in which he attested to Beethoven’s progress in Vienna and asked for further financial support for his pupil. Unimpressed, the Elector replied that almost all those works had already been composed and performed in Bonn before Beethoven’s departure for Vienna a year earlier, and refused to raise the stipend. Beethoven substantially revised the Octet as the String Quintet, op. 4, published in 1796. The Octet itself did not actually appear in print until 1830. The first movement opened with a spirited conversation between the oboes and the clarinets, with virtuosic arpeggio passages for the horns near the end. The second movement was a lilting aria in which oboe and bassoon predominated. In the witty Menuetto, staccato motives in the first oboe were emphatically punctuated by the horns; the Trio shifted rapidly between clarinet, horns, and bassoons. In the Presto Finale, the clarinet led off in a harebrained gavotte. The ensemble seemed to enjoy this romp as much as the audience.

The final concert of the Beethoven Chamber Series takes place on Sunday, March 30th, at 4 pm, with Russell Sherman, piano; Gabriela Diaz, violin; and Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello performing the violin sonata, op. 96, the cello sonata, op. 69, and the Archduke Trio, op. 97. Chamber music of Felix Mendelssohn and songs by Hugo Wolf are promised for a new series beginning next fall.

Virginia Newes, who now lives in Cambridge, was Associate Professor of Music History and Musicology at the Eastman School of Music.

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