All composers steal—deliberately and inadvertently—from themselves and others. And that’s just fine according to “international composer, arranger, musician, producer, and educator” Larry Bethune, who introduced “Beethoven and the Beatles,” the latest installment of Cherry Street Music’s “Classical with a Twist” at the historic Allen Center in West Newton. We certainly knew that Beethoven stole from Mozart, but how many of us had connected the Beatles with Beethoven, Bach, and Vivaldi as well as with Chuck Berry?
Music Artistic Director and all-in cellist Allison Eldredge also made a strong case for connections between the old and new masters in her enthusiastic introduction and in her heartfelt playing, as did the totally engaging gospel singer Donna McElroy, who opined that the Beatles would be remembered as long as Beethoven. The estimable and essential chamber pianist Max Levinson supported both artists with diligence and sonically outgoing joy.
Behind the Ionic temple-front Greek revival Allen House, a restored and renovated quirky barn/gymnasium/bowling alley, used for decades by the namesake school, welcomed perhaps 200 listeners to a comfortably warm acoustic, albeit without sightline help from either a raised stage or raked seating. The midsized Steinway grand on loan to the center could have benefited from a bit of tuning and voicing in the upper registers. The generous intermission reception saw to our social and gustatory needs in the many splendid rooms of the original edifice.
In Beethoven’s Sonata No.1 in F Major for Piano and Cello, Eldredge, showed no shyness in reversing the title order, especially in the visual displays of her irrepressible kinetic engagement in the music and the moment. The spotlight loves her. Levinson looked downright sedate by comparison, but his intense musicality relationship with Eldredge often caught fire as they mixed it up with morphing domination and submission. They depicted Beethoven’s storms and humors through a powerful embrace and showed no fear…even when they might have pulled back a bit.
It took us a while to get into the first Beatles set. The piano arrangements (the expected guitarist cancelled) substituted rather un-idiosyncratically for the marvelously layered sounds of the Beatles recordings, and McElroy defied our stylistic expectations somewhat as well. “It’s surreal for this gospel and country singer to be doing the Beatles…my voice is fresh from the fields,” she said with entirely unwarranted self-deprecation. But by the time she got her mezzo-mojo smokin’ in “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” we accepted her melismas, scats, and do-ops as inevitable and very much in the moment.
After the generously sociable intermission, Levinson and Eldredge delivered more soulful musical romance with Beethoven: Sonata no, 2 in G Minor for Piano and Cello. Eldrege looked and sounded as if her life depended on every gesture, and her face mirrored her soul. But if you closed your eyes, Levinson sounded just as demonstrative and zealous.
The second Beatles set—”Come Together,” “Something,” and “She Loves You,” really got the house jumpin’. Eldredge joined Levinson and McElroy for an exceedingly soulful “Let it Be,” delivering an emotional benediction for a memorable night.
Click HERE for upcoming Allen Center events (including “Beethoven and the Beatles” Part 2)
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer