IN: Reviews

Warming, Cantabile, and Zany

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Music Mondays hosted violinist Angella Ahn and pianist Jean Schneider yesterday at the Scandinavian Cultural Center in Newton and on livestream.

Although consisting “only” of a simple, arching melody over chords in the piano, Sicilienne for Violin and Piano by Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824) gave us an introduction to the versatility of both performers. Ahn’s violin sounded both sweet and resonant while Schneider provided a full bodied and sonorous accompaniment.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in C Minor, Op. 30 opens with held Gs in the piano followed by four 16th notes which outline the 3rd and 5th degree of a C minor chord. The downbeat of the second measure is C, the root of the triad. Although the first two measures are an unequivocal affirmation of the piece’s key, mystery was conveyed by the pianist, who lifted off the downbeat C of the second measure. Given that the note is marked staccato, the mysterious and apprehensive feel is undoubtedly what Beethoven intended. The violin enters with the theme at m. 8 and although Ahn communicated the mystery, the violin’s ability to make a slight crescendo on a held note imparted fresh lyricism to the phrase. The second theme has a strict, almost military rhythm that is heard first in the violin and next in the left hand of the piano. Schneider recalled the violin’s articulation perfectly, while the piano’s right hand and violin doubled each other in a dynamically complementary manner. When the opening theme returns it serves as a foil to a lyrical flight of fancy on the part of the violin. Beethoven turns contrast into drama as the piece closes, with Ahn running smoothly through the opening motif underpinned by broken octaves in the piano. Both instruments join for a triumphant ending on a C minor chord.

Movement 2 is built upon an 8-measure-long singing legato theme heard first in the piano. The violin takes up the theme as the instruments trade principal and accompanying material. The musicians communicated a beautiful cantabile flow throughout. Just when we thought the music could not get more gorgeous, Beethoven injects several rapid stentorian C major scales in 128th notes, marked ff. Schneider attacked with gusto and precision. The piece ends with the piano lingering on an E flat pedal and pearl like scales while the violin sings the simplest of tunes, a slightly embellished A flat triad. The legatissimo of the piano, combined with the sweet sound of Ahn’s violin made for a ravishing conclusion.

The scherzo and trio are playful and dancy with many offbeat sf’s adding to the jauntiness. The final movement begins with a rumble, a twice heard rising minor second followed by staccato quarter notes and landing on a G major chord. There follows a four-measure theme that recalls the first movement. The finale is turbulent with the twice heard minor second making all kinds of unexpected appearances. The piece ends in a frenzied coda. The pair’s tight rhythmic, musical and textural coordination held it together, communicating the entire palette of Beethoven’s musical ideas.

Paul Schoenfield is known known for mixing jazz and classical elements. The first of his Four Souvenirs for Violin and Piano, opens with a quick, aggressive, minor chord in both instruments. It’s then off to a series of scurrying scales and arpeggios with the two instruments either in coordination or imitating each other. While giving their all to the gusto and rhythmic drive, Ahn and Schneider kept the ensemble taut and unyielding. At Tango the mood changes, with the violin in languid step wise motion over a rhythmic piano part. The Tango rhythm is introduced in the left hand at m. 16 and is then heard (with some breaks) until the end. Each artist contributed a warm, mellow sound which made the piece even more sumptuous. In Tin Pan Alley the dotted eighth 16th-note rhythm imparts a feel of ragtime. The crystalline touch of the piano right hand and violin, over the steady rhythm of the left hand, made us all long for the 1920s. Square Dance, is enormously complex, and anything but square. Leaps in both piano hands, and changes in meter are part of the challenge. The walking bass in the piano left hand moored us in this zany composition. The audience, thrilled with the eclectic program gave the artists a warm reception as all dispersed into the gray, cool March afternoon.

Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.

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