Lifetime Learning livestreamed violinist Robyn Bollinger and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer in “Alone Together: Celebrating Musical Community in Isolation” October 19th from A Far Cry’s Jamaica Plain space using a single USB microphone and a laptop webcam. Rafael and Robyn covered a range of genres in nine compositions. The Four Duettos of J. S. Bach, BWV 802-805 alternated with the other selections. They were composed for one keyboard player, with the title referring to the total independence of the two lines of music. Ironically, “duetto” describes accurately the performance we heard today which was a true duet. Throughout, each voice stays remarkably in its own register and thus could be played without change, by violin and cello. Each duet has its own personality, with perhaps the first being most suited for the stringed instruments. The four fit in beautifully in the mix with other composers, reminding us once again of Bach’s timelessness.
Hungarian composer Emanuel Moór’s suite in C major for violin and cello, op 109 movement 1 comes from the Romantic era and the influence of Brahms is clear. The instruments were in conversation mode, trading melody and accompaniment throughout. The melody line was songful and conservative, moving by seconds, thirds, fifths and octaves and almost always consisting of quarter notes and eighth notes. The flow was steady. Bach’s Duetto in E Minor BWV 802 followed. Both had independent lines and traded accompaniment and principal material smoothly and effortlessly.
Kodály’s approach to composition resembles that of his compatriot Bartok much more than it does that of Moór. What Kodály and Moór have in common is songful lyricism and instrumental trading of melodic material. Unlike the Moór duo, however, Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello op 7, which closed the program, exhibits dramatic leaps in both instruments and abrupt mood shifts. Kodály’s frequent instructions—accelerando and con fuoco—give us a clear idea of the atmosphere he sought. Bollinger and Popper-Keizer communicated the differing musical characteristics well. Not only trading melody and accompaniment smoothly, but also matching one another’s tone and phrasing.
We had earlier heard three pieces which referred to nature and natural phenomena. Spirals, by Katherine Balch refers to the configuration of a mollusk shell. The score called for chopsticks rather than the violin or cello bow. The chopsticks were slithered across the strings or bounced on them until the sound died naturally. In addition, traditional pizzicato was used in both instruments. There were times when Balch’s experiments with different sounds and textures simulated the slither of a mollusk across a sandy beach and the general variety perhaps alluded to mollusks’ multitude of solutions to the challenge of locomotion.
Three movements from Hailstork’s Evensong evoked dusk and nighttime. The first, Twilight is contemplative, consisting of chords and short motifs. Its strength was to highlight the differing sounds of cello and violin. The warm resonant sound of the lower cello register rewarded our ears often. Popper-Keizer brought this out beautifully while Robyn created the lustrous and songful sound one expects from a violin. Gently Say Good Night made similar use of chords and succinct motifs, however, the instruments often moved together and the piece felt like an intimate conversation. The opening intervals of Silver Night summon the moon rising. Abundant use of harmonics elicits images of wispy clouds and low mist (see painter Caspar David Friedrich’s “Morning” of 1820-21). Transmission of the work’s range of pp – ppp proved extremely over Zoom proved extremely challenging. Determining whether the musicians met this challenge awaits an in-person hearing .
Breathing Sunlight by Akshaya Avril Tucker takes inspiration from the North Indian Classical Raga Bhimpalasi. Timbre, color and expressive gestures communicate the emotional. The music has an improvisatory character; throughout, the score contains directions to play “freely.” The composer writes about “moments spent with those who will leave us soon.” About two thirds through, the pace quickens, and a dance (Virginia reel perhaps?) emerges. Bollinger and Popper-Keizer seemed comfortable in this environment, communicating a mood of patience and forbearance with moments of merriment.
Robyn and Rafael had explained that they had assembled the material for variety of sound, timbre, color, and compositional style. They encompassed much in this hour, substantially enriching our socially distanced lives.
Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.