NC Symphony Performs Both Double Concerto and Triple Concerto – A Rare Treat
Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Lisa Marie Mazzucco
April 16, 2016 - Raleigh, NC:
Double concertos are among the least common of genres in the repertoire of Western music, and of course triple concertos are even more rare; it is definitely an uncommon treat to hear both on the same program. This is exactly what the NC Symphony did – with a trio of fantastic and world-renowned soloists, they performed the most well-known triple concerto, Beethoven's Op. 56, and one of the most well-known double concertos, Brahms' Op. 102. The concert was already bound to be fantastic with pianist Awadagin Pratt, violinist Philippe Quint, and cellist Zuill Bailey, but the added element of live recording for future release by Five/Four Productions gave these performances even more weight. This is the NC Symphony's third recording with Bailey. Quint and Pratt have graced the NC Symphony stage many times as well. Previous recordings have soared to the top of the Billboard and New York Times classical charts; this recording is bound to be monumental upon release.
Without three soloists that work seamlessly together, a performance of Beethoven's Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra would be next to impossible. Of course, this was not a problem for the talented artists and the NC Symphony under the baton of Grant Llewellyn. The concerto is extremely demanding technically, especially in the first movement (Allegro), where frequent passages of rapid patterns are played in harmony between the violin and cello. These patterns require absolute uniformity of expression, executed perfectly by Quint and Bailey. Meanwhile, Pratt's articulations in similar passages were incredibly unwavering too, translating the phrasing to an instrument with a completely different timbre.
The overall theme of the first movement is joyful and decidedly major, with little dissonance. The interplay among the soloists and orchestra was fascinating to behold – there was so much to take in at once, especially in the energetic first movement. The resulting texture is incredibly unique. Most frequently, the theme began with Quint, who traded to Bailey, and then to Pratt; these exchanges seemed effortless despite the necessary amount of concentration and musical engagement required.
The second movement, Largo, gave rise to a mellow and romantic melody; Quint's sense of lyricism and Bailey's articulate expression were especially apparent here. The piano was more independent in this movement, and Pratt's sweeping arpeggios moved gently up and down the keys. The third movement, Rondo alla pollaca, is a delightful romp containing the most energetic material of the work as a whole. The rondo theme is naturally dance-like, reminiscent of the Polish polonaise. Suddenly, triple meter turns to a wildly fast duple, with flying figures traded brilliantly amongst all three soloists. Of course, the rondo theme then returns with an ending of bold, triumphant chords.
Brahms' Concerto in A minor for violin, cello, and orchestra is his last large-scale orchestral work. It contrasts Beethoven's concerto in that there are many changing textures and moods within each movement. In addition, there are more truly cadenza-like solos throughout. The beginning of the Allegro movement is mysterious – a pizzicato cello creates this mood, and the violin has a similar solo shortly after. This movement contains fascinating melodic progression – moving from a solemn and strong mood to capricious major mode and back again. The two soloists frequently exchanged parts of the melody back and forth, and the movement ended grandly with a minor cadence after an increase in urgency and energy.
The second movement, Andante, contains a soaring and falling melody, led by the soloists frequently in unison. This movement, perhaps more than any other, is a kind of music that listeners can let wash over them – it is fully engrossing due to its detail, yet strikingly beautiful. The final movement, Vivace non troppo, is grand and playful, with quickly moving patterns and an accented theme for the rondo. Every time this theme returns, it is more boundless and bolder than the last. For the soloists, this movement was a whirlwind; the violin and cello wove in and out of one another as well as with the orchestra.
The dramatic and breathless ending brought the house immediately to its feet, recognizing the absolute mastery and unparalleled musical sensitivity of all three performers that evening.
Attending a concert can sometimes feel somewhat artificial: You go to a formal venue to hear musicians engaging in their art, in the company of hundreds (or thousands) of relative strangers — it is a highly contrived and manufactured experience.
Last Saturday’s Salon Series concert by the Cypress String Quartet was nothing like that.
The performance at the intimate auditorium of the Kanbar Performing Arts Center in San Francisco followed the conventions of a contemporary concert. But with the members of CSQ only inches away from an audience of friends and long-time supporters, the concert’s organic and direct personal impact increased dramatically.
CSQ, which consists of Cecily Ward and Tom Stone (violins); Ethan Filner (viola); and Jennifer Kloetzel (cello), had engaged their friends and colleagues Zuill Bailey (cello) and Barry Shiffman (viola) to perform the two string sextets that composer Johannes Brahms created as his Opus 18 and 36.
Brahms wrote these sextets in 1860 and 1864-5 respectively. He was a perfectionist who was extremely self-critical as a composer. In his attempts to compose a string quartet — for many composers the highest and most difficult form of music writing — he found that he needed more options in harmony, color, and symphonic texture to express himself. With two violins, violas, and cellos each, the string sextet gave Brahms enough possibilities: He did not, indeed, publish the first of a total of three string quartets until his Opus 51, in 1873, claiming to have destroyed or abandoned 20 previous attempts.
With six hard-working, deeply engaged musicians literally at arm’s length, the atmosphere is thick with vibrating air; you can not only hear the strings resonating, but even feel the sound waves permeate your body, like music by osmosis.With six hard-working, deeply engaged musicians literally at arm’s length, the atmosphere is thick with vibrating air; you can not only hear the strings resonating, but even feel the sound waves permeate your body, like music by osmosis.
Also part of the experience is the extraneous sounds that musicians make when playing their instruments: fingers sliding across strings, the soft rustling of clothing or feet moving across the carpet, bodily gestures or intakes of breath for emphasis or phrasing.
And then there are the eyes. Follow the musicians’ eyes and you follow the music and the instruments’ forever changing roles. Within Brahms’ musical fabric, they are constantly shape-shifting, moving from lead voice to rhythmic punctuation or countermelody, sometimes from one note to the next. This is especially prevalent in Opus 36, where Brahms’ writing is even more dense and complex than in the First Sextet, with its more Classical orientation.
Needless to say, this performance of both Brahms’ Sextets by “Cypress Plus Two” was one of the finest examples of chamber string ensemble playing I have ever attended; one for the history books and my list of personal favorites.
It is unfortunate and at the same time understandable that CSQ has decided to disband after 20 fruitful years of playing together, but most good things must come to an end.
Based on last Saturday’s performance and the plans for the months ahead until the farewell concert on June 26, CSQ is going out with a bang.
- See more at: https://www.sfcv.org/reviews/cypress-string-quartet/cypress-quartet-brahms-by-osmosis#sthash.nbxpKXsc.dpuf